To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Posts will chronicle excursion research and planning, the trip and, of course, the post trip hang-over (i.e. picture review). I hope to share some stories, laughs and lessons. Most importantly, I wish for my stories to inspire others to get out and see this vast, diverse and beautiful country.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On Off-Topic Aside

My intention was to use this blog as a type of travel diary.  As I continue to profess - I love to travel and seek out adventure.  It is a great passion  and I have a few places still to go on The 50 State bucket list and plenty of new places to see on the new lists I am making.  I have parks to visit, cities to tour and photos to take.  Well, this week, my ability to do that has taken a deep hit.  As a non-essential employee (nothing I do will cause irreparable injury/harm if it is temporarily halted), I have been furloughed for the unforeseen future.  After listening to a few people say "Its not a big deal," I am ready to pop.  It is a big deal.
I have worked for the federal government is some way, shape or form for about 15 years.  It was a career path I sought out and one I competed though a selective program to enter; I was   hired at the Department of the Interior, through the Presidential Management Intern Program (now known as the Presidential Management Fellowship Program).  This program  recruited graduates of masters and doctorate programs, and selected a pool of applicants each
year following a series of assessments.  It was highly competitive and my University viewed these as coveted job opportunities.  Being selected was a honor.  Bragging rights for my school, a career path for me.

Somewhere, in the time between my law
school/grad school graduation and today, the views of public service have shifted.  Government service was honorable, when I told people what I did or where I worked, I was thanked... today, the general public views government service with disdain.  People will trash talk government workers without a second thought.  It has been less than 15 years since I moved to DC... what happened?   The short and easy answer is - Politics has changed.

The federal government has shutdown.  This is not a minor inconvenience.  This is a significant failure by our elected officials.  And the collateral damage for their refusal to even debate is the public.  Employees are out of jobs and we have no idea how long this will last. The most visual part of this process has been the shuttering of the national parks, monuments and the Smithsonians.  Here in DC, tourists wander around lost and at a loss for where to go in the face of this insanity.

Does this impact the general public - with 800,000 people out of work - damn right it does.   Looking at the micro level it is easy to see how - I am single, with a mortgage, condo fees, law school loans, and general bills.  Sure, I save, but I also travel and shop.  I love to go out to eat with friends, take in movies, go to the theatre, shop for clothes, jewelry, love to cook so I frequent groceries, farmers markets and other shoppes.... I spend.  OR should I say I spent?

Not knowing when my next paycheck is means no trips on Amtrak or flights on United (although I have a ticket to Seattle soon), no renting cars, no hotels, no shopping, eating out, no tours... no fun.  I have to lock myself in my condo and hope I can pay the bills.  Hundreds of thousands are in the same position as me.  So yes, we have no pay, but us not shopping, eating out or traveling around means that our hardship becomes the pain of all those shops we frequent as well. That loss of business hurts them and their employees.  It snowballs.  In fact, here in DC, economists project that ever day the region losses $200 million a day.

I was furloughed on Tuesday.  Instead of going home to watch TV or get lost in twitter, I decided to wander DC for a bit.  Wanted to take in those iconic sites that I miss all too often when I am in the office... Wanted to capture images of the shutdown.  It was sad.  Federal employees wandered around like on their own death march.  Tourists consulted maps and looked
lost.  I stopped to help a few, but what do you tell visitors from Brazil, Austria, Germany, England who have traveled to the US to see these iconic sites, and they are SHUTDOWN.  I pointed to the Capitol and told them it was their fault.  I directed them to the memorials that were open or at least could be seen, to the fee museums, and to our shopping districts but really, this is not what they wanted.  Tourists love DC for the Smithsonians, the Greek inspired monuments of Lincoln and Jefferson, to wander the tidal basin and discover FDR, Mason... I felt horrible for them.  I feel horrible for my colleagues.  I have bills to pay - ACK!!!

I happened upon a scene that the WWII memorial that afternoon - a southern Congressman (Mississippi, I believe) in the closed monument screaming into his phone, wanting to talk to the Secretary of my Department - why were the monuments closed.  It was at that moment that I realized that these guys didn't even read up on what was going to be shuttered because they could not do their jobs.  He should have been 2 miles
down the road on Capitol Hill.  He should have known that by not passing a budget the assets managed and cared for by employees would be shuttered.  He should have read up on the consequences of his actions.  Instead, he posed for the camera.

A few years ago, the government decided that the banks were too big to fail, the auto industry was too big to fail, so why isn't the federal government too important and too big to fail?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Weekend In the City

Well, after a few bumps and Amtrak delays, I arrived in NYC and made the trek from Penn Station to Hell's Kitchen. Wheeling a weekend bag down 8th Ave is like playing a game of Frogger. You have to dodge people, both city folks and tourists, the gross old water puddles and work those sidewalk ramps... sometimes I just give-up and lift my bag over the larger obstacles. No squishes with this game, but I did have to do the "rush around" the sidewalk hoggers a few times. After a full day in an overstuffed train, I was ready for some entertainment... 

And boy, did my friend have a surprise for me! She scored us Kinky Boots tickets. FINALLY! All hail Cyndi Lauper because this show is FAB-U-LOUS! I can't say enough about the voice of Stark Sands - so clear, crisp and what diction! My old voice coach would be proud. It was like liquid butter - oh so good. And then there was Tony Award winner Billy Porter - that man can make you laugh and cry... the 2 of them on stage together singing brought down the house. And the show; it has an amazing message about acceptance. So for all the uninitiated - it is not just about shoes! But, shoes do have a starring role. (I want a pair of those boots!)

 Saturday my alma mater was playing Arkansas at 3pm. And my inner fan girl wanted to cheer for my school - Go RU, Chop those Hogs!(and chop them they did!) That afternoon, I had to settle for twitter game updates because we were off to see the Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie. It was an opportunity to stretch the play-side of my theatre heart and a chance to see Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto spar on stage. As expected, it was hard, harsh, real and all together sad. Tricked into thinking that it was "not too depressing" in the first act, we were double whammied with doozies in the second act - both performance wise and story wise. The whole situation played out in dysfunctional family drama predictability and the "male caller" deserved a good solid kick in the nuts. Yes, the performances were haunting... but like my theatre to end in happy kick-lines and resolved note chords. This cast a gloomy ting on the afternoon. Good thing my Scarlet Knights pulled out that win... go RU!

 We headed right to the TKTS booth for the evenings options and picked up 3rd row tickets to A Night with Janis Joplin. Not my era of music, but any music lover knows that she was a class A blues rocker. This biopic was headlined by Mary Bridget Davies and I am convinced that I just saw a future Tony nominee. This was literally the first show I have been to where an standing ovation broke out in the middle of the performance. This woman rocked the house. As someone that did not grow up with Janis music (just found her hits as I grew to explore my musical tastes), I learned a lot too. This show weaved a tale of Janis's youth and inspirations. Consider it a history of female blues singers. And watch out for the ending of the 1st act with Aretha and Janis (and a completely kick ass peacock patterned jacket) - it will blow your hair off.

 Not to be spared the rain, Saturday night downpoured. No, that might not even be the right word. The sky opened up and dumped all the water out over Union Square. It was that kind of rain that you can stand outside and wash your hair in. Driving, pounding, torrential rain. At least it was warm rain. Headed back to Hell's Kitchen from Union Square was comical... we had a taxi, really we did. I even said Hi to the guy. My friend spun to say goodbye to her friends and someone coopted our ride. Who is that rude? And don't go thinking it was a New Yorker, cuz it wasn’t... no qualms there and did even offer to share the ride with us. Freaking a... not wanting to start a fight (and heck, we were already wet), we each took a corner trying to hail a cab. An off-duty guy took pity on us and we thanked our lucky stars...

After 3 completely different shows in 2 days, we decided for forgo the matinees on Sunday. Instead, my brother at Seton Hall trained in and we all headed down to Pier 66 to eat at the Frying Pan. It was perfect weather on Sunday (a stark contrast to the swimming we did in Union Square Saturday night). Pier 66, off the Hudson River Parkway offered us river views, a cool breeze and lots of sun. Easy bar food, it was perfect fare for my brother, and a good relaxing afternoon.

From there, with my brother off again, we headed to Loehmanns in Chelsea. I have a Loehmanns near me in DC, but really, is there a comparison to our 1 floor location to the 6 floors of fashion goodness here. Every time I go, I score big and this time it was a DVF skirt... now all I need is brown tights, good boots and a solid light sweater... ha! Headed to Herald Square to seek inspiration at Macys, but forgot my coupons at home, so all the good finds I found were moot. At least I know that this skirts works with a crop jacket or sweater... like I said - SCORE!

 We headed to dinner at Havana Central - a great Cuban place for some food and music and then I was back on the train. A weekend gone. Plenty of city miles walked. Shows seen. Shopping fix squashed. A cool new frog necklace procured. My feet were killing me. But, as always, I had a fabulous time and felt energized by the buzz of my home city... So until I make it up again (which should be soon since Annie is closing soon - YIKES)...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bookending My Summer With Another Theatre Weekend

Summer is not officially over.  Just because my morning commute is more complicated because of school buses or the condo pool is closed (or the fact I broke out the blankets) doesn't mean the vernal equinox has passed.  On this last full weekend of the summer of '13, I head back to my heart's home for one more weekend of theatre and city energy...I am headed towards New York City.

I was hoping to score some Kinky Boots tickets...I love me some Cyndi Lauper, and the show has been on my "want" list since it opened.  Unless my friend and I hit the theatre's lotto, it looks like I am going to miss it again.  I have to see it with Billy Porter, so he can't get a new gig until I score some tickets...Deal?

What I do know is that my friend already got us seats to The Glass Menagerie.  When I think of Tennessee Williams, I actually think of New Orleans-they have a pretty famous festival for him.  I have to confess that I have not seen a Williams play on Broadway, and have always considered myself a strictly musical person, so this is a new experience.   Plus I get to see Sylar/new Spock live....how awesome is that?  I will let you know.

The new musical season is gearing up and a slew of new shows have opened.  So, I think we are going to play Pin The Tail on the Show and wildly guess at our next choice.  I loved Big Fish the movie and think the concept will translate well to the stage.  I am wildly curious about Soul Doctor and fear that is bound for the same fate as Hands on A Hard Body and will close before I get to see it...  Times like this, those pamphlet pushers in Times Square are handy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Where Did My Summer Go?

As days have noticeably shortened and the evenings have become increasingly cooler, I have to ask where summer went. I am a summer lover. Love the sun, love the warm weather, the insects calling (most insects), the clouds and can appreciate the beauty of a good thunderstorm… it can’t be over already, can it? Did the season skip me? I am not ready for fall. My Summer of 2013 was filled with plenty of activity to keep me busy. Without work travel, my plan initial plan was to enjoy the summer locally… that did not last. My travel bug reared its head and the weather was truly not warm enough to warrant weekend by my condo’s amazing pool. So, I kept busy in plenty of other ways.

[Before I start, I have to thank Mother Nature for trying to drown my spirits this summer. Every trip I went on (every one) had a rain event. Some serious, like my Buffalo trip where the trip was almost cancelled due to winds, rain and general enough insanity the plan could not take off or due to impermeable fog after thunderstorms in Bayfield where the boat could on leave. I had rain while walking around the battlefield in Gettysburg, rain on every NYC trip, rain getting to Indy, rain in Iowa and Michigan… it was a wet summer. ]

My state quest was front and center this summer. I only visited 1 new state in 2012. This summer I made up some ground and knocked out 3 to 4, depending on how you view my stopover in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I jumped into 3 new states at the very beginning of the summer. And while a trip to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan may not be everyone’s way to spend a week around a birthday, it was exactly what I needed - Some time outdoors, fresh air, new landscapes and new adventures. Seared into my mind are the black fly clouds of Northern Wisconsin, lovely hikes insects be damned, the rolling farms of greens, the cold waters of Lake Superior, the expanse of the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Iowa (so far north of my typical view point in NOLA), and the incredibly sweet family from Minnesota who celebrate my birthday with me. I learned about Summerfest (and went to opening day), I tried curds – both fresh and fried, and still remain confused as to why Dubuque Iowa has so many Statues of Liberty replicas (and yes, I did try to find out why – no one knew).

In August I was able to cross Indiana off my list with some incentive by my favorite group – hello, major Blockhead here! Near the end of the New Kids on the Block tour, I was given a gift by the group, the fan club, their company, whatever – point is I (and a few others) was offered free tickets to the closing show of the tour…and it was in Indianapolis. A quick search on United pulled up a weekend special rate… so off I went to see my band one more time. A concert, a new state, a new capital city and time to site-see – perfect weekend. There I took in more rolling farm land (the apparent theme of the summer), visited the Indianapolis Zoo, the Art Museum and some city sites. I marveled at the amazing dog jump show; I remain convinced that this is the same group that preformed at the Alaska State Fair last summer. Ever want to see a dog high jump over 6 feet in the air, or catch 10 Frisbees in a row, you gotta see this show! At the zoo I was treated to childhood memories of my parakeets Tweety and Turbo when I visited their aviaries willed with their twins, cousins and extended family. I took in a dolphin show at the aquarium section of the zoo and smiled at the dolphins dancing to Katy Perry. And I was astounded with the educational outreach that the zoo did – lots of very informed patrons roamed around limiting my typical cringe factor. The Art museum was a site to behold even if some staff were a bit rude. As I expected, they had more Renaissance art than I could stomach, but their contemporary section was a site to behold. I am still enraptured by a sculpture by Tara Donovan – (sorry, no pic since we were not allowed to take photos in this section).

Monday, August 5, 2013

Checking Indiana Off

Quick weekend in Indiana.... well with plane delays, it was more like 36 hours.  And in that time, I stuffed in tour of the incredible Indianapolis Zoo, the famous Art Museum, Explored Monument Circle, attended a concert and a PARTY.  I will post pics and stories... with Indiana complete, my list is now down to 4!!!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How To See the Sites of Buffalo/Niagara Falls in 2 Days

I had lofty goals for 2 days - I knew it going in.  But I also had precedent.  I had visited the area about 10 years ago for 2 days specifically for a friend's wedding reception; even then I stuffed some stuff in to the weekend.  Niagara Falls is a thing a majesty and it cannot be denied.

I broke the trip up - 1 day for the Falls and one for Buffalo (namely the zoo's polar bear cubs)

In Niagara, entertained myself at:

  • Hershell Carousel Horse Museum - here I learned about the history of the carousel ride.  Did you know that it was considered scandalous when it was first introduced.  Only adults allowed and the church preached against its corruptive powers.... the Carrousel!!!!  Not only did we learn how the horses were carved, we were also treated to a lesson on the music.  You can't walk out of here without a deep appreciation for the artistry alone.  
  • Riding Maid of the Mists - not much to say here except that it is a must do... I rode this trip without my poncho hood up and can happily report that the powerful mists are better than a shower in penetrating my thick hair.  You take the ride to feel and hear the power of the falls...you walk around the State Park to see the falls.  Because, you cannot see the falls when you get close.  Your eyes shut from the battering of the water.  And, if you are me, you laugh silly from the experience.  This was my second ride and I would go back in a second (on a warm day).
  • Talking in the Symphony (no kidding, I was treated to a concert of John Williams music - and
    still humming ET because of it).  I don't care what his detractors say, I love John Williams music.  I really think that people that criticize do not know the breathe of his musical genius.  Not every score he composes is a "march", it just so happens that some of his most well know compositions are marches.  Still, there are some lovely classical strings in there.  And after a day of walking around, sitting down on Old Falls Street for a special concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic was nothing but pure bliss.  
  • And then, headed back to the Falls again at night - because if you have not seen them, you must
     witness the colors on the water.  It sounds so simple, but the site is not!  ( when I get some time, I will add a slide show of the falls pics in the right hand column for all to see)

After some well earned rest, I headed to Buffalo to visit the primary reason for my trip:

  • I spent the afternoon with the polar bear cubs, "ahhhhhing" away at the Zoo.  For those that do not know, the Buffalo Zoo has 2 polar bear cubs this summer.  One was born there and the other was brought there from Alaska after a tragic hunting incident (where its mother was killed).    Words cannot do that afternoon justice as all of us in attendance watched both cubs play with each other, with their toys, swim, scratch, run after birds... it was too adorable.  And the locals must be repeat visitors because "they are getting so big" was repeated over and over again.  
  • After spending most of the afternoon observing polar bear cub behavior, I headed off to view the rest of the zoo where the other animals were also in active moods.  I got to see all sorts of monkeys antagonizing each other (there is a whole butt scratching thing that I have to research now - is it an insult?)  The aviaries were filled with colors pheasants playing in the dirt.  Lions and tigers were calling.  Gorillas were moving about.  Wallabies were hopping.  It was a very active time - one would swear that the animals were competing for attention since the crowds were at the polar bear site.  
  • I rounded out the weekend with a bit of history and headed to the Teddy Roosevelt National Historic Site - the home where Teddy was sworn in as President after William McKinley was shot at the Buffalo Expo. The tour is a historical discussion... and here you learn that Teddy was camping/hunting (doing what he always did) when he got word; he traveled to Buffalo, was told McKinley would be fine, went back only to come back again when he passed away days later.,.. I shot in the gut will do it to you in any time period.  And as the tour walked you though some of the key issues of the day - immigration, labor laws, women's rights, civil rights, the titans of industry controlling everything - you were left shaking your head on how these issues have not changed.  Have we not learned from history?  Have we forgotten our history?  Do we think that we know better now?  Or will these issues haunt our society for all of its existence?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Random Sites and Interesting Places in WI and IA

There is lots more to write about regarding my trip in the Lands of Corn and Cheese.  Surprisingly, I have been a bit busy since I returned.  Now I am headed off on my next great adventure... and guess what??? It is supposed to rain on me again.  Sad, I know.

Before I head off the airport, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on my June trip:
  • Aquariums - I went to 3 places that were to have aquarium-like features.  Sadly, only one was truly awesome. 
    • I give 5 stars to the Mississippi River Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa.    It might have stolen my heart with a special turtle exhibit, but its true majesty was how it embraced the whole river:  it walked visitors through the entire river journey from headwaters to delta.  Sure you met sturgeon, but you also see otters, turtles, alligators and a whole tank on the Gulf of Mexico.  They have videos that fly you over the whole river.  AND it touches on the communities and cultures influenced by the Great Mississippi.  I loved it. 
    • Sadly, I did not love my time at the Discovery Center in Milwaukee.  The Science Center/Aquarium was in a great place and filled with kids - at the science exhibits.  The aquarium was in the basement.  And there it had a few tanks of fish with no names.  They had a walk through laboratory that focused on tropical fish (not there are any in Lake Michigan).  I got the feeling it was  there to say they had one.  But, if you need an aquarium fix in the area, head to Chicago and visit the Shedd.  However, I must say that the facilities diorama of the Great Lakes System was fascinating; you could play with the weather and the lock system in the model and see how it impacts the lakes.  You can clearly see how they interconnect.  This was the must see!
    • Lastly, (or firstly if you are going by the order I visited them in) - there was the Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland.  At the southern point of Lake Superior, this facility was all about the displays, no live fish here.  BUT it had a wonderful boardwalk  trail to explain the local ecology... and this is what I really wanted.