Summer Sunsets

I can’t deny it any longer.

Last week I turned off the air conditioning and haven’t turned on the heat. I do my very best to delay turning on the heat. I am not yet sure whether that is stubbornness, denial or both. But today there is a chill in the air inside the house.

Suddenly, every Saturday morning I regret my choice to not have cable. It is that one time a year when I miss ESPN, or maybe it’s just Kirk Herbstreit.

My white shoes, linen blazer and seersucker suits are dry cleaned and packed away, sadly, for months.

As I type, it is 42 degrees in Fort Wayne. Today’s high is 46 degrees.

It is fall.

In an effort to further my stubbornness and/or denial, I want so share my best of the summer sunsets.

There is not much better than a warm/hot/sweltering walk in the glow of the setting sun in bare legs and short sleeves. I am afraid that there won’t be any more of those until spring.

Indiana Sunsets:

Alaska, Arizona and Washington Sunsets:

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Why Everyone Loves Notre Dame

One of the things that has always been a mystery to me is the University Notre Dame’s (“ND”) and its fan base. Growing up in the mountains of Virginia most people cheered for one of three college football programs – Virginia Tech, Virginia, or Tennessee. Many people were fans because they or their family members attended those schools (I am a proud Cavalier Volunteer) and others because of their proximity to those schools. The proximity fans I can understand, it makes sense, they love the sport and they pick a Division I team that is nearby. Fair enough.

ND Stadium

What I don’t understand is the large number of ND fans that exist in the world. All over the country. Seriously? How does a Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana become the favored team of people everywhere? And when I say favored I mean these people are tattooing the leprechaun on their bodies, flying flags on their cars, and doing all manner of crazy, committed-fan-things. It’s confusing especially when my conversations with these people go something like this:

Me: Did you go to Notre Dame?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you from Indiana?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you Catholic?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you Irish?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Have you been to South Bend?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Then why Notre Dame?

The answer to that last one ranges from “I just do” to talk of “traditions” that the fan has never experienced themselves or something related to the fact that they are always on television. I don’t understand it and I cannot deny that this odd loyalty to ND has, along with the fact that they are constantly on television and over-rated, caused me to dislike ND. I am not a fan.

But, because I pride myself on being fair and trying something before I say I don’t like it, I took myself to South Bend to watch the Fighting Irish play Michigan State. I committed myself to doing it right – seeing all the monuments, experiencing the traditions, and being open-minded about it all. This also allowed me to check another Big Ten stadium off my “to visit” list.

The game was a hot mess. There was not one sustained drive until Michigan State started the second half. The Irish won, but not impressively.

The experience, however, was far more impressive than the game. The ND fans are friendly, passionate, and interesting. For example, my neighbors by my seat were super friendly people. To my left was a Catholic couple who went to Michigan State, were cheering on the Irish because their son teaches there. The sweet wife immediately struck up a conversation and about religion in which she educated me on how the Catholic church marginalizes women and how Pope Francis’s admonishment of the church’s wrongs was too little too late. To my left was a large man who loves ND. He did not attend ND and he’s not Catholic or Irish, but he lives in Northeast Indiana so he gets a proximity pass. He loves ND so much that he has 5 tattoos celebrating his team, including a giant Leprechaun tattooed on his back (luckily, I did not see this but I believe him) and the college’s logo on his ankle (which I saw).

I was also the happy beneficiary of help with campus navigation by friendly ND fans and ND staff. There were lots of smiles and hellos all day.

The stadium, however, is not as nice as the fans. It seems that there isn’t a bad view in the stadium, but the bleachers aren’t much to sit on. The stadium bleachers are wooden 2x6s bolted to the risers. Not comfortable, not wide enough, and they have crammed too many “seats” into a row. I was shocked and disappointed to say the least. My high school’s bleachers are more comfortable. My other issue with the stadium is the score board. ND doesn’t have a jumbotron. Seriously? Can you really consider yourself a world-class Division I program without a jumbotron? I need to be able to watch replays. I am a spoiled UVA and Tennessee fan, both have jumbotrons. The athletic department, donors, and administration at ND need to step it up here and join the 21st century.

ND Bleachers

Then there is the matter of Touchdown Jesus. I have to say I was not fully comfortable with it. It is a beautiful piece of artwork, definitely, but calling it Touchdown Jesus doesn’t seem right. I mentioned this to my neighbor in the stadium, the Catholic feminist to my right, and she quickly responded “well it is no different then calling a pass a Hail Mary.” True, and I had not thought of that (I am very Protestant), but still, it seems somehow disrespectful coming from a religious school.

The library

The ND band was definitely a high point. The band is only one fire baton short of being fabulous. Really. In the South the marching bands have fire batons and that is my standard for greatness, so, the Irish just missed it. The band’s performance was great. However, I was most intrigued by the Irish Guards. I had no idea theses guys existed in the world. I enjoyed their inspection drill and their halftime marching performance. Very neat. I also loved that the band sits on the field. Initially, I thought this was awful, because it appeared that they had to stand the entire game, but when I realized they could sit down I found the proximity better for hearing and somehow more collegiate than having them in the stands. I do love a marching bad.

The grand traditions are also worth loving. Visiting the dome, the basilica and the grotto were alone worth the trip. It must be lovely to have such grandeur on your campus, although I imagine more than one 20-year-old has taken it for granted. I watched the band concert and the march to the stadium. No detail is ignored at ND it seems. The reverence and respect paid by ND to its traditions and buildings is something worth experiencing. It is also very Southern. The South loves and is often hyper-focus on tradition and pomp and circumstance and there is definitely an air of that at ND. It is grand and I enjoyed it very much. I even bought a shirt (gasp!).

All in all, it was a good experience. The campus is beautiful, the people are nice (and if not, they are at least entertaining), and the tradition is a lovely and grand one.

But, make no mistake, I did not leave South Bend a fan. I still think they are the media’s pet and annually overrated, but I do understand a little better now why they are beloved by the masses.

Four Days in L.A.

The summer’s end arrived early and was anti-climatic. One minute it was July and I was recovering from my summer vacation in London and the next it was August and I was teaching again. So, after two months of a new semester and 7 lectures it was time for another trip. One thing I have learned after 2 years and 8 months or so in Fort Wayne is that I require frequent breaks from Northeast Indiana.

Where to then? The short list was Portland, Los Angeles, or home. I spent Labor Day at home so that left Portland and L.A. Portland in October did not sound all that attractive. If I want gray and rainy I can get that in Fort Wayne. So, L.A. won easily.

I set up temporary housekeeping in Santa Monica at The Viceroy, which was fantastic. Some will tell you that the place to stay in Santa Monica is Shutters on the Beach (just in front of The Viceroy). While Shutters is nice and you may run into a celebrity or two there (if you care for that kind of thing) it seems to be more of a family spot – lots of little ones. If you are traveling alone and can bear to walk a block to the beach then The Viceroy (or one of the other boutique hotels in Santa Monica) is probably better suited for you – fewer children and traditional vacationers. If you go please give my best to John and Andrew who work the front door.

It was a near perfect vacation. No work, no writing, no drama. I took long walks on the beach, bought a shirt at Amoeba Music, had a chauffeured tour (note: the chauffeur is a friend, but still) through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, got to the Griffith Observatory on a reasonably clear day, walked Zuma Beach, cruised up PCH, wandered through Malibu, dreamed of working at Pepperdine, socialized with some lovely friends, saw the Endeavor, and watched three near-perfect sunsets.

Even better, every meal was a great gluten-free experience. I dined on lamb belly at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., then had octopus salad and rock fish at Son of a Gun, drank a juice blend called Bright Eyes with my huevos rancheros at True Food Kitchen, had ceviche at Border Grill, and finished up the trip with curry at Rock Sugar. It was fabulous eating. Traveling gluten-free in L.A. is so easy.

The trip was right on time in every way. I can’t even complain about the L.A. traffic, I did not experience any of the bad parts of the city. I’m not sure that I am west coast kind of girl, but 4 days in Santa Monica is really hard to beat. It made returning to the not very sunny Midwest painful. But I still have the pictures . . .

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Traveling: Things I Learned in London

Visiting London has been on my short list for at least three years. I needed to go, but I put it off. There are challenges that come with international travel when you are single. Well, mainly one for me, can I do an international trip alone? Should I?

I travel within North America alone regularly whether it’s a road trip to Canada, a weekend in Asheville, or a work trip to Seattle. But I have never traveled overseas by myself. I have a dear friend that I travel internationally with from time to time, but we haven’t been able to coordinate our destinations and timelines since our Ireland adventure in 2010. And she lived in London years ago and is not so hot to go there. As you have read here and elsewhere, many of my friends are married and have children. Therefore, their travel priorities and vacation time are often spoken for well in advance. My single friends, while willing are not always able. So, I was left to find another travel partner or go it alone.

I found another travel partner, sort of. Last fall I decided, Sister and my brother-in-law permitting, that I would take my oldest niece, The Princess, to London with me. She is sixteen, very smart, and has plenty of domestic travel under her belt, including 30+ trips to Disney World (true story). Also, I really feel blessed by what I have and want to share things that I enjoy with people I love. It is very charming isn’t it? Just like a movie – I am taking my niece on a trip of a lifetime so we can experience travel and a different place together. A time that will bring us back home changed for the better. Dramatic, yes, but it’s fitting or a 16-year-old.

I asked, she agreed and her parents acquiesced.

London was fabulous. We had decent weather, only a couple of days were rainy and cold. We worked the tourists experiences like they were a job: we took the Tube everywhere, saw the changing of the guard, visited Piccadilly Circus, British Museum, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, The Globe Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, Harrods, took walks through South Kensington, Chelsea, the West End, visited Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dover, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, had tea at Fortnum & Mason, ate fabulous meals at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & The Ledbury, and a cruised up the Thames from Greenwich. We did not do it all, but we did a lot.

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Did we come back changed for the better?

I was told years ago, and still believe it, that we learn more from traveling than we do from anything else. So, while I cannot say that I am changed forever, I can say that I learned somethings.

I’m now tough like my parents were tough.

I remember traveling with my parents as a kid and thinking – wow, they are tough. Of course, I had good reason to think so. My parents are the kind of people who consider long-distance driving without stops or breaks a sport. My Mommy dragged, er, took Sister and I to Washington, D.C. alone and walked us like soldiers from monument to museum all day. They are the kind of people who drive from Iowa to the panhandle of Florida non-stop, just to say that they did it. I suspect my Mommy suggested stopping and my Daddy would have none of it, but either way, that is how they have always rolled. I would get tired and wonder how they continued to walk. I would get bored with the beach and wonder how my Mommy could stay out on the stand from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (not an exaggeration). Age makes you wise and tough.

This trip reminded me of that – I spent the entire trip about three steps ahead of The Princess telling her to keep up or three steps behind making sure she got where she was going. I could not get tired, wimp out, or stay in (even if I was or wanted to) – I was in charge. I wanted her to get out of it everything she could. I became my Mommy. I get now that my parents were tough for our benefit. They were tough so we could learn, experience the world, and have fun. My enjoyment was their job. They walked longer than they wanted to so that we could see all the sights, stood up at the park all day so that we could ride all the rides, and stayed on the beach so we could swim and play for as long as it took to wear us out. I’ve haven’t given birth but I have become like my parents and for 7 days I felt like I was someone’s mama.

I am more practical than ever.

Everyday The Princess had a nicely coordinated and chic outfit to wear. She was perfectly layered, mismatched, and draped with just the right color scarf. Me, well, it wasn’t nearly as cute; I was most often wearing Keen sandals, a comfortable skirt, and a series of layered shirts that may or may not have matched. Seriously, I brought three skirts, two pairs of shoes, five shirts, and two jackets. I appreciate The Princess’s disregard for comfort, but when the limping started I was reminded that I am now old and wise – a solid color skirt, layered t-shirt/sweater, and comfortable shoes carry the day. I can be super cute at home.

I am no longer a mademoiselle.

This was a sad revelation. I am the first to accept and admit my age. I’ve always been older. According to my mother I was “30 at 15.” It is who I am. So, I get that at my age I could biologically have a 16-year-old child. In fact, I have high school classmates who have 16-year-old children. It is possible. Knowing and understanding this reality, however, is not enough to prevent the shock when someone points it out. The very fabulous and cosmopolitan host at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay approached our table and looked first at The Princess and greeted her as “madamoiselle” and then turned to me, paused, and said “madame.” Really? Madame? Yes, really. Then, at the end of the meal one of the charming, young, and handsome wait staff kept The Princess company while I was in the restroom. He politely asked her if the jacket in the coat check was “her mum’s.” Oh, yes he did. That cute little fella immediately thought I was her mother. It still hurts a little.

There is a reason that parents want to hit teenagers.

“Keep up.”

“Sit up straight.”

“Have you thought about how _____ feels, or why they did that?”

“Don’t be so negative.”

“You should go to sleep.”

“Keep up.”

“Take off your sunglasses.”

“Do you know where we are?”

“You have to talk to people.”

“Keep up.”

“You look miserable.”

“Be polite.”

“Are you having fun?”

“Speak.”

“Keep up.”

What you just read is one-side of the daily conversation during my 6.5 days with The Princess. The other side of the conversation was much simpler. It consistently included the following: “okay,” “I don’t know,” and most often silence. So, there were a lot of one-way conversations.

The good news is that I did not hit The Princess. But, I now have a better appreciation for people who must live with unimpressed, too cool, self-absorbed, scared, confused children that look like adults (i.e. teenagers). You people have my deepest sympathy. I’m told that they grow out of it.

I can travel anywhere alone.

I satisfied myself that I could have easily made the London trip alone. If I can manage 6.5 days with a minor in my charge, I can do it alone. I’ve turned the last of the traveling alone corners. It is a nice bonus to fun trip with a cool kid.

Indiana Winter: Cold, Flat, & Windy, Part II

It seems that I’ve been fooled. My first winter in Indiana, 2011-2012, was incredibly mild. Not only was there not one single large snowfall there was not much snow at all. Additionally, the temperature, while cold, was not consistently and continuously bitter. Oh, and I lived in an apartment with a garage. So, I never had to encounter snow directly: no shoveling, no sweeping, no cleaning off the car. All I had to do outside was walk the dog.

The Eel River frozen up to the falls.

The Eel River frozen up to the falls.

Everyone I’ve talked with about the weather (which is nearly everyone) told me not “get used to it.” I am afraid I did.

This winter is different. There have not been any giant snows, but we have had more snow and the temperatures have been way (at least it seems to me) colder. Days and days of temperatures under 20 degrees. Wind. Constant, cold wind with wind chills repeatedly below -10. Oh, and I now have a driveway to shovel, a walk to sweep, and neighborhood streets to try to navigate safely.

I have prided myself on the fact that I can handle cold weather and drive in the snow. I was raised in the mountains! It does snow in the mountains and it does get cold. However, it doesn’t stay this cold for this long, the snow doesn’t hang around for weeks from one storm, and it doesn’t snow this often. And, there is no wind there, at least not constant, extremely cold, and sustained winds.

This has been much more of an adjustment than I am comfortable admitting. It is not in my nature (or raising) to concede weakness or discomfort. Every time I walk out into the piercing cold wind I cringe. I long for some mountain cover. The question – why do I live here crosses my mind. Regularly. If I missed home when it was warm here, I miss home 1000x more now.

Luckily, I had the chance to escape the Midwest winter briefly. I spent part of the last week in Puerto Rico, where it was sunny, warm, and, like Fort Wayne, windy; there the wind blows warm. It was a much needed break even though I worked most of the trip. But that trip taught me a very important lesson. I now know the key to surviving a Midwestern winter. Take a break.

I learned how to use the panorama feature on my phone in PR.

Seasons change and I have access to airplanes. So, my new vacation window is going to be January to March, just in time for a nice break from the Midwestern winter.

Boston in Pictures

I just made my first trip to Boston. It is nothing if not charming. I stayed in the theatre district and spent two days walking the city. The location was perfect and Boston was easier to navigate than I expected. It was interesting, beautiful, and fun.

The Boston Common and Public Gardens were the perfect introduction to Boston. You get the history, the pretty, and, if you are lucky, nice enough December weather to be outside.

After a tour through the Common I wandered through Beacon Hill. It is a lovely urban community. A cross between Colonial Williamsburg and Manhattan with super cool doors.

Next, I picked up The Freedom Trail at the Massachusetts State House. It was getting dark at this point and I was hustling to see as much as possible before dark caught me, especially the burial grounds at the Park Street Church. This is when I punched myself in the stomach. Seriously. I was crossing the street from the Common to Park Street Church. Rather than watch where I was going I was taking a picture AND walking (see the picture below) and walked directly into a huge green rib-cage-level pole in front of two lanes of traffic. Full speed. I have never been punched in the stomach but I imagine that this is what it would feel like. I was embarrassed but could not be too concerned about the gawking bus driver and passengers since I could neither breath nor stand-up straight. So, for a time I sat at the foot of the Boston Common sign trying to decide if I was really hurt or if the pain would pass. I was not and it did. I just felt stupid. Live it, learn it.

My last day was spent wandering through Newbury and Boylston Streets doing some window shopping and taking in the view. This is where I learned that I sound Australian, at least to a sales representative at Brooks Brothers. Maybe she had talked with the taxi driver from the day before who asked me if I am British. Who knew the Appalachian twang was so hard to decipher?

The storefront used in Cheers made this leg of the tour as did the view from the Prudential Tower and the Boston Public Library.

No trip of mine would be complete without some food pictures . . . the eating is good in Boston. I planned dinners at Market by Jean-Georges and Nebo, but oysters at Neptune was an impromptu stop and by far the best eating I did the three days I was there and I just had oysters. Super good.

There is plenty more of Boston to see, but for this first trip I feel like I covered some serious territory in a day and a half. My muscles are still sore and my feet are still recovering. I will go back, if only to hear someone say “wicked smahhrt.”

The Anchor Leg: Niagara Falls

Here we are at the end of the line. I left Niagara-on-the-Lake with a two spot itinerary, first Niagara Falls then home. The only way to get from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the parkway, stay off the QEW. The parkway is too pretty to miss.

The Falls are everything they are described to be. Loud. The roar from the water is amazing. Lovely (and loud) white noise. Wet. What people like to call a “mist” is just straight up rain. Seriously. Even if you are just doing what I did and staying at the Table Rock over look you need to take a poncho, umbrella, or rain jacket. When the wind hits the “mist” consider yourself drenched and cold. Beautiful. It is undeniably beautiful. Additional proof, in my opinion, that God is the most talented artist.

I enjoyed my visit, although I kind of pulled a Clark-Griswold-at-the-Grand-Canyon . . . I parked, got out, walked up to it, thought here it is, took some pictures, and left.

Things to know about a visit to the Falls before you visit:

  1. It is a total tourist trap. How can you tell? There is a casino, a Hershey Store, and a Hard Rock Cafe (on both the Canada and U.S.A. sides).
  2. Bring a towel or something to keep your phone or camera lens wiped down. Remember, it is wet there.
  3. Parking at the designated Falls parking lot in Canada will cost you $20.00 and best I can tell there is no where else to park. Monopoly.
  4. The Rainbow Bridge crossing the gorge will be slow-moving but the pictures will be worth it.
  5. People there and throughout Ontario love to say escarpment, as in the Niagara escarpment. Be prepared.

Now for the pictures. Enjoy and don’t forget to pack your raincoat.

I left the Falls and had an uneventful return to FW. It was a great adventure. I look forward to heading out again soon.

P.S. If you missed my blather on my other stops on this trip you check them out . . . Oh Canada!Toronto 1, Toronto 2, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gluten-free Travel, and Traveling Solo. Thanks for tolerating my shameless self-promotion.