BootsnAll Travel Network



Moving Sites and Countries!

September 12th, 2008

I have moved! If you are a reader of my blog or enjoy the articles about travel to specific countries, please come check out my new website at www.ottsworld.com. I will no longer be updating this Bootsnall blog; instead I have moved all of these articles to the new site and am currently adding new posts weekly on my new travel adventures.

At the new site you can also sign up for RSS feeds and email notifications through feedburner. If you used to be signed up for feeds on this Bootsnall Site, then you will have to sign up again on my new site. In addition, I hope you will find the new site easier to use when trying to locate articles about specific topics and countries. There are many other great new features such as surveys, featured articles, photo streams, and tags – so check it out!

In addition to my website move, I’m also moving physically! For those of you who haven’t kept up to date on my whereabouts and plans – here’s the scoop:
I’m leaving to fly to Nepal tonight. I will be doing volunteer work in Nepal for 2 1/2 weeks teaching kids in a remote village. I will be living with a family in the village – I don’t really know any more than that. Some people would be freaked out by that, I on the other hand am a bit excited about the unknown adventures in my future…good and bad. I am volunteering through Hands for Help Nepal; a local Nepal organization. After I am finished with my Nepalese village adventure, I will be moving on to Vietnam’ my new home for a year. I have taken a job teaching English to adults at ILA Vietnam – an English Language School in Ho Chi Minh City (otherwise known as Saigon). I will be living in HCMC for a year. I’m not really sure what to expect, I don’t have a place to live yet, but I know that the school is big and I should meet plenty of other people like myself…even though they are all probably 10 yrs younger than me!

I will be doing a ton of writing and photography now since I’m back on the road – so please check out the new site and sign up for email notifications!. I bought a new camera this summer, and will be uploading some of the photos from my last days in NYC so check out the new photography! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing from people when I’m on the road. It really does make my day and remind me that I’m not all alone out there halfway across the globe!

Please continue to join me on my Corporate America Runaway adventures and move over to www.ottsworld.com

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Taking a short break…

August 20th, 2008

napping

I leave the country again in one week…how times flies. I really do feel like hours are moving like minutes and I wonder if I will get everything accomplished that is on my ever growing list!

You may have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of a blogging break. I needed this break for a couple of reasons; to prepare to leave the country again long term, and to redesign and move my Ottsworld website! The website is still under construction and I will have a complete update when it is finished (hopefully before I hop on the plane for Nepal!) You are welcome to check it out while it is in progress at www.ottsworld.com

So – hang in there, be patient and don’t give up on me! I will be up and running again really soon; this time from Nepal (assuming I can find an internet connection and electicity!)

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How to Survive Being a Passenger

August 12th, 2008

Being a passenger Check out my latest travel article on the Indie Travel Podcast site! I’ve had many experiences with being a passenger, so I put together some things to consider before stepping onto that plane, train, bus, bike, or automobile. Sometimes you need drugs, sometimes you need a little help from above, but most of all you need some luck!

Click here to read the article!

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Midwestern Round-Up

August 4th, 2008

God Rays
Photo: Lake Sunset

For the ‘best of’ my summer photography – click here!

I can’t believe it’s been 2 months. This is the longest I’ve spent in the Midwest in a long, long time. To top that off, it’s the longest I’ve stayed with family since I moved out at 18 years old. These two months have been all about reconnecting; reconnecting with a part of the country and the people that molded me and made me what I am today; good or bad.

Like most of my foreign travel, my experiences here were full of variety; fun times, disturbing revelations, ‘first’ experiences, eye opening discoveries, and some things just left me baffled. Many times I wondered if I was in a foreign country as my cell phone rarely worked (don’t let TMobile tell you they have complete coverage in the US, TMobile has NEVER set foot in South Dakota!) I even contracted foreign ailments; a bad case of poison ivy! As with most countries that I spend a significant amount of time in, I decided to treat the Midwest with a recap of my experiences. Even though it is the US, there are things that make the Midwest unique.

Road Shows:
There’s something to be said for variety. As an Aquarius, I love variety and change; so my summer of random traveling road shows was perfect. I had the pleasure of going to a traveling strip show, a circus, and a rodeo. I wish they could have figured out a way to combine these all into one; a traveling circus with rodeo performers that stripped…intriguing. They certainly would have saved money on gas costs if they all could have traveled together! The shows came to us, this small town community of Lutherans, all we had to do was buy a ticket and show up. I think the traveling Male Revue strip show was by far my favorite. Not because the men were hot and the mood sexy; it was far from that. It was the quirkiness of the experience within the setting of a very small Lutheran town. It made me realize that even in small towns; you have all kind of people with all kinds of preferences; there are even single people. Albeit divorced and widowed, but they are still considered single!

Food – or lack of it:
storm on the prairieThe most stressful part of my time in the Midwest was not the constant severe storms that rolled through on a daily basis; it was grocery shopping. I had multiple melt downs in the Milbank grocery store when produce clerks looked at me as if I were crazy when I asked for fresh basil. The people at the store knew what Dopler Radar was and the intricacies of how it worked, but they had no idea what pine nuts were and why anyone would want them. I love cooking. I especially love cooking Asian food, but the ethnic food aisles were humorous at best and I eventually gave up and stuck to brats, burgers, and pork. However, for fun I started collecting a list of items that I could never find in the small town grocery stores around the Midwest.
Fresh Basil, Fresh mint, Fresh Thyme (I think you get the picture…there are no fresh herbs), goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella cheese, baguettes (or any kind of crusty bread), pine nuts, curry paste, pad thai noodles, rice vinegar, arugala, baby corn, shallots, and Italian sausage.
I think the people in the grocery store came to dislike me after a while. I felt like when they saw me walking into the store, the manager would come over the loud speaker and say…”She’s back….” and everyone would run and hide!

Going for the Gold
wheatThanks to the copious amounts of food and ice cream I consumed, I had to try to keep up with my expanding waist line (it was a losing battle ultimately), so I would go out and run. As soon as I set out on a mile road (the term for how the Midwestern countryside is carved up into square mile sections with dirt road perimeters), people knew that I wasn’t from around here. I ran on a square mile section that surrounded my parents place; equating to a 4 mile run on the flat, treeless, gravel road. It was 2 weeks before I ever even saw a car pass me. When the car did pass me, I imagined how I would end up as dinner conversation later that night as the farmer told his family about this stranger who was running on county road G. Seeing someone out running on these roads was an oddity, deer were much more common than someone wearing a jog bra and an ipod! I had my share of animal encounters while I was running out in the middle of nowhere; deer, fox, and even a jack rabbit crossed my path. I startled them and they startled me. The highlight of my Midwest running came when my sister convinced me to enter a local small town 10k race. I told her that I wasn’t in shape to run it, but a change of scenery on my run would be nice as this race was in town and not on the animal-filled mile roads. The race field was small, about 200 people and I walked to the start line with the guy carrying the ‘official clock’, a digital timer, and the starting gun was someone saying “on your marks, get set, GO!”. It was refreshing to participate in such a well organized, simple race. But the best thing about small town races is that I am actually above average in a field like this! I walked away with a bronze medal for finishing 3rd in my age division and finished 25th overall. Beijing, here I come! If you want to feel fit, just enter races in small towns, it’s a great ego boost!

The Red, White, and Blue
One of the things that stuck out to me about being back in the Midwest was the patriotism. I don’t think I’ve been exposed to this much patriotism since 1976 – the centennial year when I collected every quarter I could find. It seemed as if every event I attended had an ‘over-the-top’ patriotic tribute. New York City is a patriotic town when it wants to be, but the Midwest has patriotism oozing out of its pores. At the rodeo, we didn’t just sing the national anthem, instead the announcer had a huge speech about what the good ole’ red, white and blue meant to him. At the circus, an array of fit performers from everywhere BUT the United States paraded out to patriotic music and dressed in every gaudy red, white and blue sequin outfit they could find. Finally, the small town parade that I attended had more American themed floats than marching bands.
Click to enlarge images:
American flag and horse American flag Men with American flag Giant American flag American Flags

Fields of Green
fieldsThis is the land of the vast fields of wheat, hay, corn, and beans; miles and miles of manicured rows. Across the highway from my parent’s house, I saw the corn grow from water soaked stalks to golden tassels (a sign that I have clearly spent too much time here!). As I drove all over South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska this summer, I watched the crops blow in the strong winds that whipped across the flat prairie unhindered by trees or obstructions. It looked like the ocean to me, waves of wheat undulating in the wind, it was soothing. The Midwest may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t waves. I was lucky enough to actually get up close and personal with some of the crops. In Nebraska, my uncle took me out to a sweet corn field where I met the farmer. I learned about irrigation, sweet corn vs. field corn, raccoons, electric fences, the proper way to shuck an ear of corn, and harvesting. I also learned that when sweet corn is really good and ready, you can actually eat it without cooking it…just right off the cob; which I tried of course! As I drove back to South Dakota that day, I stared at those corn fields. I squinted my eyes a bit causing the image to become a blurry image of green. I imagined little pointy hats out there, in fields of green rice. I started daydreaming about what my life was going to be like in a month when I moved to Vietnam, what adventures and new experiences I may encounter as I change environments and countries once again. I thought to myself that farming is farming – in any part of the world; a comforting feeling as I prepared for change.

As I sit here and write this, my dad is reading the paper and informing me of all of the activities that I will be missing since I am leaving tomorrow. The wedding dance on Aug. 9th (open to all of course), the threshing show and tractor pull on Aug. 16th, the tractor parade and polka dance on Aug. 17th, and the ranch rodeo on Aug. 10th. He just informed me that the ranch rodeo has a wild cow milking contest…now we’re talkin’! I would about consider changing my flight plans to see locals milk wild cows!!! New York night life and sushi vs. wild cow milking…a hard decision.

Ah, but you have to leave sometime, and it is my time to bid the Midwest goodbye. It was a great summer for many reasons, but the best thing about the summer was spending time with my family. It’s hard saying goodbye again for 1 ½ years, but time goes fast and I know I will be back to this foreign land, enjoying everything it has to offer, including the warmth and support of family.
A family montage. I’m only missing a picture of my sister-in-law…else this is it…the Ott clan. Click to enlarge:
My mom and dad Niece - Lindsey Nieces - Allie and Bethany Niece - Erin Nieces - Megan and Evie Brother-in-law and sister Nieces playing school my Brother and his fish
Photo: My sister, brother, and I
My sister, brother, and I

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Traveling Circus – An Endangered Species

August 1st, 2008

Elephant raising the big top
Photo: Elephant and crew raising the big top

To view the “best of” South Dakota photography click here!

To view all snapshots of the circus – click here!

As a kid, I never saw a circus. I skipped right from playing circus games/acts with my older brother in our front yard (which landed me in the emergency room), straight to Vegas and seeing Cirque de Soleil performances. I never saw a ‘real’ circus, the kind with a big top, elephants, trapeze families, and clowns…until this summer in the Midwest.

I saw a poster in the Milbank grocery store about a traveling circus that was showing up in my parent’s town in a week. When you are living in a small town (even if it is temporary), you are aching for something interesting to happen. So when I saw the poster, I decided that this was it…entertainment at last! The paper had a story about the traveling circus and I found out that the Carson & Barnes traveling circus was the only one of their kind. The traveling circus is a dieing breed; it should be put on the ‘endangered entertainment list’. The Carson & Barnes circus is one of the last big tops traveling the country. The paper also stated that if anyone wanted to see the big top raised, you could show up at the grounds at 8AM to see the elephants raise the tent. It seemed like a great photo op, so I bought my tickets and cleaned off my lenses.

unfolding the tentMy dad and I went into town early at 8AM to go watch the activity. Little did we know that we would actually get involved in the activity. As we were watching the circus crew set up everything, a man came over and asked my dad for some assistance in finding a local machine shop as they needed to do a trapeze repair. As my dad ran off to assist, after all the show must go on, (and after all, I couldn’t write a post about the circus without using that line…sorry), I stuck around and photographed the raising of the big top.

It was quite an operation to watch as hundreds of workers plus one elephant raise a tent next to the corn field on the outside of town. This process took over 4 hours in all to go from a flat tent to a functioning big top. I talked to one of the workers and found out that as soon as the show ends tonight, they pull it all down and get on the road again the next day at 5AM to do the exact same thing in another town…day after day. This is a job that took patience for repetitive tasks that I would never have. Note to self…never run away and join the circus; no matter how desperate I am to find a job.

trapeze catch
We took my 3 nieces to the circus later that evening; they had never seen a real 3 ring circus either. It was an international affair as all of the performers were from other countries and most had been with the circus for generations. As I watched various families perform death defying acts high above the ground with no nets, I looked around at the small crowd and wondered…how many years does this big top have left?

It was a good show overall and I think the small town of Milbank was thoroughly entertained as well as myself. The performances received plenty of ooh’s and ahh’s. I felt as if I had stepped back in time to a life before cable tv and video games. Early the next morning, the many, many trucks loaded with animals and tents took off leaving no trace and ready to do it all over again a hundred miles down the road.

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Corn and Cowboys

August 1st, 2008

Rodeo
Photo: Holding on Tightly

To see the ‘best of’ photography from South Dakota – click here!
To see snapshots from the Rodeo, click here!

One day left on my South Dakota family vacation. I survived two days of road tripping with my parents, and so far I concluded that I may need therapy after this. We decided to finish off our South Dakota extravaganza by getting in some exercise, some oddities, and some cowboys.

I convinced my parents to hike to the tallest peak in South Dakota, Harney Peak, standing at 7,242 ft high. Sure, this altitude isn’t anything mind blowing, after all, it is South Dakota, not Colorado. However, I was proud of my parents (both 72 yrs old) for being in shape and still able to do a 4 hour moderately difficult hike. Granted, I think my mom was about ready to kill me by the time we got back to the parking lot, but the important thing is that she made it!

Corn PalaceWe bid goodbye to the Western edge of South Dakota, land of patriotic stone carvings and buffalo, and took off towards the royalty of the Midwest; the Corn Palace of Mitchell South Dakota! Driving into Mitchell was a bit reminiscent of entering Disneyworld; driving down main street, getting a first glimpse of castle spires with flags blowing in the wind…and thousands upon thousands of pieces of corn. Is this a fairy tale? A bad dream? Or is Johnny Depp going to walk out of the front door in a Willie Wonka meets Edward Scissorhands outfit?

Photo: Look closely – those are really corn cobs!
Corn Palac MuralYes, there is really such a thing as a corn palace, and yes, it is made primarily of corn. No, it is not in Nebraska. It was erected in 1892 as a tribute to the agricultural heritage of South Dakota. Throughout the century, it has changed a bit and became more of a solid structure/event hall that houses murals and spires made of corn, and it hosts any concerts and sporting events in Mitchell. The original palace was primarily erected from corn and the corn byproducts (stalks, etc). Besides the joy of saying that you went to the Corn Palace, I can’t say that there’s much more to it than that. We went inside and toured the hall which had more corn murals inside, a large gift shop of everything corn (of course), a video of the history, and pictures of every corn palace from 1892 to the present.

Photo: Troy – this is how it’s done…
Calf RopingHowever, the real reason why I was actually excited to be in Mitchell South Dakota was because the rodeo was in town. Even though I’m a Midwesterner by birth, the closest I ever came to a rodeo was when my brother would chase me down, and flip me over on the ground, pull out a rope and calf tie me (2 legs and one arm), throwing his arms up in the air when he was done as if someone were timing him. There are truly not many things more humiliating than laying there tied up like a cow as your brother walks off to leave you there. The joy of brothers.

This was my chance to be the spectator (as opposed to the spectacle) of a real rodeo, so I was rather excited when we pulled up and there was a sea of cowboy hats. I had bought reserved seats for us as a birthday gift for my parents. The whole scene was fascinating to me. From the fans, to the kids, to the uber patriotic national anthem presentation, to the six packs of beer that they sold still held together by the plastic six pack rings. Cowboy hatThis is the middle America. This is the plains, where the real cowboys are. Yet cowboys have changed through the years. The man next to me with a cowboy hat, holding a beer with a plastic six pack ring on it, had to take a cell phone call about some cattle that needed to be picked up tomorrow. I had to laugh to myself about the modern cowboy…no guns, just cell phones.

Rodeo bronco ridingThe Mitchell rodeo had it all; good looking cowboys, bucking broncos, barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping, and even a strange acrobatic horse show/intermission. The calf roping was by far my favorite event, I think I was mainly thankful that I wasn’t he one getting roped! My South Dakota Family Vacation had come to an end. As we drove back to Eastern South Dakota the next morning, we were treated to one of my favorite sites on this flat landscape, an storm rolling across the prairie as far as you could see. South Dakota actually surprised me in many ways. Sure, it’s rather desolate, but it had variety in landscapes, variety in wildlife, and plenty of unique experiences!
Photo: Storm in the distance…
storm on the prairie

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Animal Encounters Of The Hoofed Kind

July 21st, 2008

Buffalos in Prairie Grass
Photo: Buffalo lounging in the prairie grass

To view the ‘best of’ South Dakota photography – click here!

Click here to see all of the snapshots of our animal encounters, Mt. Rushmore, and hiking.

The signs were everywhere. In Pierre, along the interstate, near Rapid City, in small towns…the silhouette of a buffalo and some scripted writing with an arrow pointing the direction of “Dances with Wolves Filming Site”. I haven’t seen the movie for some time; however I do still remember the Indian name for buffalo, tatanka. It’s probably the only Indian word I know. It seems like the movie Dances With Wolves put South Dakota on the map.

On day two of my family vacation we unknowingly were on a South Dakota Safari. It seemed that our travels kept leading us into the path of wild animals, sometime on purpose, sometimes on accident. Luckily, we survived all of the encounters and so did the animals…yet I believe we probably equally scared each other!

Needles of South DakotaWe decided that we would explore the nations 2nd largest state park, Custer State Park. It’s nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota on the western edge of the state. After traveling through the Midwest for a while, it’s always exciting the first time you start to see hills, they look like mountains and your eyes are relieved to get a glimpse of something that isn’t so flat and vast. That’s how I felt when I entered Custer State Park, relieved to know that there is something else other than wheat fields and hay bails as far as the eye can see. My dad navigated the scenic Needles highway through a multitude of curves and turns; I thought about how I’d rather be the driver than the passenger in this situation while wondering what needles had to do with hairpin curves. We came out of the woods and I had my answer, the needles were the rock formations that loomed in front of us jutting up out of the forested hills. We pulled over so that I could take some photos and get some fresh air before car sickness took hold!

mountain goatAs we were walking around the rocky area I heard a weird noise and saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I looked left in the direction of the UMO (Unidentified Moving Object) and I was surprised to see a large white mountain goat jump onto a huge rock about 15 feet above where my dad was standing. I grabbed my camera and started shooting as it continued to jump and make its way down the rocky cliff face and onto the road. As it reached the road, it ran right towards my dad and stopped about 5 ft. from him. The goat looked at him for a few seconds, and then ran around him. I honestly thought that my dad was going to get rammed, but they must have had some sort of meeting of the minds deciding that they were friends and not foes; not to mention too stubborn to move.

After our close encounter butting heads, we went on towards Mt. Rushmore to view the famous heads. This was my main goal in coming to western South Dakota; to get a dose of the ultimate monument in American pride. It’s the one monument that will last longer than any other thanks to it natural, sturdy construction. Mt. RushmoreThere is no entry fee for the monument, which makes it my kind of tourist attraction; budget friendly! However, parking was $10 and there’s really no getting around that unless you arrive by bus. I share a birthday with one of the rock heads, but even that didn’t get us free parking.

Mt. Rushmore was pretty much what I expected, impressive and very patriotic. The museum/visitor center was full of footage of the construction as well as history of the famous presidents. As I read the historical information and presidential quotes, it reminded me of just how unique this country is. For all of my disgust with it at times, I have to admit, it is a pretty amazing place with a strong cultural personality; unlike any other country I’ve ever been to.

AntelopeThe remainder of the day we traveled by many more Dances With Wolves signs through the town of Deadwood and winding through Spearfish Canyon. We even made it to Wyoming where the rocky hills oozed out into a vast rolling ‘big country’ of hills and open spaces. This is where we had yet another animal encounter, with Bambi. Bambi was in the middle of the road and we were hurdling towards it trying to quickly decipher which way Bambi was going to turn. Odds were that Bambi would turn; Deer never stand still when you want them to. We slammed on the breaks and veered to Bambi’s right the exact direction which Bambi decided to go of course. I braced myself and cringed knowing that we weren’t going to be the ones hurt in this situation…the Honda outweighed Bambi. I watched out the front window as the little white tail was going to be swallowed by our car, but by some miracle of good brakes, we ended up simply tapping it and saw that it was able to run off and up the hill without any noticeable limp. All was fine in the enchanted forest, but it was one very close encounter…I mean call.

Buffalo GrazingThe next day I was ready to see tatanka – not just on a sign announcing Dances with Wolves, but the real thing. Custer Park has herds of buffalo roaming the park in the prairie areas. We took off early in the morning and I strapped all of my cameras around my neck in the hopes of maybe seeing a buffalo. Sure, I had seen the buffalo in Golden Gate Park before, but they are fenced in and not as ‘convincing’ as seeing a large herd out in the grasslands of South Dakota…the motherland of tatanka. We wound along the park road eyes peeled for anything brown that moved. A car in front of us had pulled over ahead, so I knew that there must be something worth stopping for. Sure enough, a huge male buffalo was slowly walking across the grassland! I got out of the car and used my zoom lens to capture it. After watching it lumber along I was pretty satisfied with our sighting – my goal was met. We continued on and went around the corner and to my surprise there was the rest of the herd – about 100 of them roaming freely.
Click to enlarge my bufalo sighting – from one to many!
lone buffalo Buffalo Herd Buffalo up close Mom Buffalo and calf

All of a sudden I was transported back to Kenya on safari. I felt like I was really on an adventure…right here in my home country. I hung out the window shooting the herd on both sides of the road. They were slowly on the move and we, along with a long backup of other cars, were in their way. I’ve never seen anything like it before, we were literally caught up in rush hour traffic, but the traffic had hoofs and was larger than most sedan size cars. This was a test of patience as we sat there for at least 30 minutes stopped or inching along as the herd slowly moved through the road calling/snorting to one another. As I hung out the window taking photos, I couldn’t help but laugh and recall how much this reminded me of India. My parents were getting a bit impatient about the whole buffalo jam, and I just channeled my ‘travel patience’ which I acquired last year around the world and really enjoyed the crazy moment. The buffalo were surrounding out car, walking by so close that I could reach out and touch them…but decided against it as a 2,000 lb buffalo was a bit intimidating to me!

Click to enlarge photos of the traffic jam!
Buffalo Rush Hour Dad and the buffalo traffic Buffalo and a sedan Cruise America Buffalo

The close encounters of the hoofed kind were exhilarating, and a bit dangerous. Luckily no person, animal, or car was harmed on any of these encounters! The buffalo traffic was by far my favorite experience of the whole trip to the edge of South Dakota. It made me realize how much I have missed traveling and crazy adventures that are truly out of the ordinary; experiences which aren’t contrived and scripted like most of our tourist attractions. I think I’m about ready to leave again…which is good considering I have a one way ticket out of the country on August 26th.
picking my nose
Photo: I couldn’t resist this shot! Maybe I am still 11 yrs old…

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Family Vacation

July 18th, 2008

Pink Hotel
Que the song “Holiday Road”, load up the family truckster, and head to Wally World.

To view the ‘best of’ South Dakota photography – click here!

For all snapshots of South Dakota – Bad Lands and Wall Drug click here!

I recently watched National Lampoon’s Vacation again. It had been years since I had seen the Griswalds take off for Wally World, still a classic movie that strikes a chord with me thanks to some similar family vacations I took when I was a kid. Our family car was a little 1978 Honda Civic Hatchback; after all there was a gas crisis back then. Sound familiar? We would all squeeze into that car (with my brother sister and I in the cramped back seat fighting constantly), pack in plastic bags (because they were more mold-able in the hatchback), a cooler full of soda and tuna salad sandwiches and take off for some midwestern location about 800 miles away.

Photo: 1978 Honda Civic – yes, 5 of us fit in there…
Honda Civic 1978This week, I find myself reliving this scenario minus my brother and sister. Since I’m in the Midwest during my ‘Summer of Homelessness’, I decided that I might as well get out and see some of the sights that I missed in my childhood. My parents were up for this adventure, so we set our sites on Mt. Rushmore. What could be more American than stone Presidents on land that we stole/took back from the Native Americans!? It’s not Wally World, but Western South Dakota would have to do.

My parents have upgraded to a 4 door Honda Accord now, but my mom still packed a cooler full of drinks and tuna salad sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. Yes – it’s a bit strange to be 38 yrs old and back on a family vacation; I feel like I’m 11 again. It’s all a bit confusing for my brain. As I traveled with my parents it made me realize just how many of my neurosis came from them! Actually, it helps me understand how I have come to see the world and why. Like it or not, we are a product of our parents and how we were raised. I’m not complaining at all, it’s just that when you spend a lot of time with your parents as an adult – you can’t help but need some therapy.

South Dakota HayI quickly learned that South Dakota is pretty much like Nebraska…flat…very flat. I also learned that the state domestic product must be hay…because it was everywhere. I never knew it came in so many forms…hay bails, hay bail rolls, hay stacks, hay bail roll stacks…the list goes on. These various forms of hay dotted the flat countryside of South Dakota like sheep in New Zealand. I’m willing to bet that there are more hay formations than people in South Dakota. My dad, being an ex-farmer, was rather helpful in educating me on all of the nuances of hay such as why we need it, what animals eat it, rolls vs. stacks, what its shelf life is, Hay vs. Alfalfa bails, etc. If any of you want to know this info, send me a comment and I’m happy to share. This was the first 4 hours of our 500 mile journey to the west. Pretty similar to my childhood memories.

My next education took place in the capital of South Dakota – Pierre. Here’s a surprise, Pierre South Dakota is not French. Nope, that’s right – don’t get fooled by that French looking name. It is not pronounced pee-air nor do people wear berets there. Instead it’s pronounced like the word beer…’peer’. It took me a while to get used to not correcting people, but their confused look made me realize that I was the stupid one. Another thing that Pierre is not…big. With a population of aprox. 13,000, it’s a very small place for a state capital. In fact – I was positive it was the smallest state capital – until I googled it and realized that once again I know very little about my own country; Montpelier, Vermont is the smallest at aprox. 8500.

Wall Drug Sign – click to enlarge
Wall Drug SignAfter a few more hours of driving, another tuna salad sandwich and generic diet coke, I started seeing signs for the famous Wall Drug Store in Wall South Dakota. What’s that, you’ve never heard of the famous Wall Drug Store…neither had I. I will save you a trip to Wikipedia and give you the short history.

During the Depression in the 1930’s, Wall Drug Store was saved from bankruptcy by offering free ice water to the traveling public, advertising this via hundreds of signs along the highways. It has now grown into the largest, most publicized drug store in the world.

Photo: My dad holding his free ice water compliments of Wall Drug
Dad and his free waterTrust me – there was no possible way to miss Wall Drug. There was a sign for it about every mile and as you got closer – it went to about every ¼ mile. The signs advertised ice water, homemade donuts, 5 cent coffee, cowboy boots, and ice cream. They even advertised free donuts for newlyweds. I waited a long time to see a sign that said “Free ice cream for single women in their 30’s”…no luck. Regardless, the signs worked and we turned off the exit for some free ice water…and some of the best butterscotch ice cream I’ve ever had! The whole town of Wall South Dakota is pretty much the drug store. Busloads of visitors stop there each day; they get 20,000 visitors a day in the summer. See what I mean, it’s impossible not to stop.

After Wall, we drove through the Bad Lands National Park. It reminded me of the Painted Dessert in Arizona that I saw recently on my cross country road trip. It seemed so out of place in South Dakota. Who knew that South Dakota had this amazing land formation that simply rose out of the flat prairie? It was stunning.

Photo: Bad Lands Stripes
Bad Lands stripesAfter 530 miles, about 5000 hay bails, 4 tuna sandwiches, and 3 ice waters, we made it to our destination, the Black Hills of South Dakota. We pulled a few beers out of the stocked cooler and celebrated. At least on this family vacation, I am old enough to have a beer! I really have no idea how I coped with family vacations before alcohol could be consumed.

Day 1 of my family vacation was quite educational. Sure, there were some times when I wanted to run out of the car screaming, but if now as a grown adult you spent 530 miles in the car with your parents I’m sure you’d want to do the same. All I can say is that even though I found myself on a family vacation again at age 38, it made me how realize how happy I am that I’m not 11 any longer!

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Escape from the Lake

July 12th, 2008

Walker Museum
Photo: Walker Art Museum – Minneapolis

I grew up in the country, however I never really considered myself a ‘country girl’. Instead, I always dreamed of the big cities; that’s where I knew I belonged. The past month I have spent time in the small towns of the midwest living a ‘country’ life. It’s quiet, scenic, and every morning I wake up to cool breezes and birds singing – it’s perfect. Yet this week I reached my breaking point. All of this fresh air and scenic solitude finally got to me. Actually, I think the final straw might have been kids arguing with each other about why they were being treated unfairly yet again.

Walker Art MuseumI realized that I missed my city life a bit, but what I really missed was my solitude. I have lived alone since I was 27, no roommates, no one to be loud unless I decided to play my music loudly, or have friends over. Four weeks of living with others (not just others…but kids) in the solitude of the countryside finally made me reach my breaking point and reach for the mini-van keys. I needed an afternoon off from people and I needed some culture other than the Disney Channel.

I put on my one and only nice outfit, and pointed the mini-van towards Minneapolis…alone. I decided that I would visit a site in Minneapolis that I had never been to before. After living 4 1/2 years in Minneapolis I had never visited the Walker Modern Art Museum. As an modern art enthusiast, I knew that the Walker was the artistic hub of the city; famous for it’s sculpture garden with the backdrop of downtown Minneapolis.

The building itself was a lovely piece of architecture to view. Inside of the galleries the building was stark, and full of texture and angles – one of my favorite things to photograph. I soaked up all of the silence and slowly wandered through the galleries enjoying the thought provoking art.

It was a picture perfect summer day in Minneapolis and so I went for a walk in the sculpture garden. As you are all watching the oh-so-exciting Republican convention held in Minneapolis, you will most certainly see the famous cherry…ahem…sculpture in the Walker Sculpture Garden. The sculpture entitled Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg is one of my favorite images of Minneapolis. I decided to examine it from all photographic angles for some fun.

Click images to enlarge:
Spoonbridge and Cherry Cherry5 Cherry4
Cherry7 Cherry1 cherry10 chery3 cherry2
cherry9 Cherry8

I ended my outing by walking to the Uptown area to see some old friends. As I walked through my old neighborhood in Mineapolis, memories of my time there came flooding back; men I had dated, bars I had partied at, restaurants I frequented. It left me pondering the concept of ‘back then would have I ever thought that my life would have went in this direction; that I would live in San Francisco, New York City, travel around the world, and eventually live in Vietnam. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that back then…I didn’t even have a passport then! I finished my field trip by meeting some old friends and catching up over a glass of wine and asian food. A perfect escape from the lake; some art, some photography, some friends, and lots of memories.

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Travel vs. Motherhood

July 8th, 2008

Conor
I’m doing a different type of travel these last few weeks. I’m traveling to catch up. Catch up to what you may ask; friends. This summer is about enjoying the cool summers of the northern US, fighting off mosquitoes, and having reunions with old friends. I’m staying with my sister and her kids at a lake cabin near Minneapolis and taking this opportunity to reconnect with my old colleagues and friends; after all, I spent 4 ½ years living in Minneapolis back in my 20’s. This journey through time has really made me think about the choices I have made in my past, as well as the choices I have made for my future. It has also made me think about motherhood since most of the friends that I’ve reconnected with are now mothers of multiple kids at various ages – a foreign concept to me.

When I was a little girl, I had an active imagination and generally figured out ways to entertain myself since my brother and sister were older and I was considered an annoyance. I loved playing house. I loved pretending I had kids to take care of, to cook for, to clean up after, and to tell people what to do. Then I graduated on to Barbies where I had a whole imaginary life of families, homes, relationships, and picking the right outfit to wear for the right fictitious occasion. Then I moved on to playing ‘work’. I would play at my dad’s old desk, make a rol-a-dex from scratch and pretend that I had important meetings to attend, people to see, people to fire, things to staple, and reports to create. At that point, I don’t ever think I thought about playing house again.

Erin and LindseyHowever the last few weeks have landed me back in my imaginary world of playing house. I’ve been surrounded by kids and families. I’ve been entertaining kids, cooking for kids, disciplining kids, teaching kids (mostly appropriate things)…and I generally have no idea what I’m doing. I am the youngest in my family, so I never really had any young kids or babies around me. Instead, I was too busy trying to be more grown up so that my sister and brother may be interested in playing with me or at least stop teasing me and beating me up! These last few weeks of being surrounded by kids and families has been fun, yet exhausting. It’s a bit reminiscent of being a middle manager in corporate America, so I’ve had to dust off my managing skills. Motherhood or Management – it’s all the same to me.

These last few weeks I’ve done things that are scarier and more challenging than climbing Kilimanjaro. I found myself driving a minivan full of kids to Wal-Mart to do the grocery shopping. My latest adventure was to take 4 girls to 3 different softball practices in different locations, cheer them on, yell at them to play nice, tell them to stop fighting with each other, and then going for pizza at the local pizza joint. It freaks me out to think that the strangers that look at me think that they are my kids…how can that be when I still feel like I’m 22 and I clearly don’t look like a mother…or do I? God help me. We’ll delve into that in another post when I have a drink within reach.

Photo: Drained lake Delton – all that is left is mud.
Lake Delton - DryI even drove out to meet my best friend from high school, Audra. She lives in Milwaukee so we decided to meet halfway across Wisconsin. She brought her young kids (2 ½ yrs and 14 months) with her for the 2 hour drive, and they watched Dora the Explorer. I on the other hand drove 3 hours and listened to a gruesome book on tape about children soldiers in Sierra Leone in the 90’s. We were worlds apart. Our worlds intermingled in the heart of cheesy American resort towns – Wisconsin Dells. Some of you may have heard of the Dells recently in the news when rains of biblical proportions dumped so much water into Lake Delton that it literally burst its banks. Tens of thousands of gallons of lake water barreled through the woods, taking with it a roadway, several houses, boats, fish and lake bed. It emptied into the nearby Wisconsin River and was gone in hours. Definitely a site to see.

We met at the Copa Cabana Resort and water park so that the kids could be entertained between us trying to catch up on 4 years of not seeing each other. There was no Barry Manilow or Pina Coladas at the Copa Cabana….instead there were pirate ships and kiddy slides. I channeled my motherhood genes that had long ago shriveled up and dried out and played as if I were Captain Hook on the high seas in between talking to Audra about travel, New York, motherhood, her career, and diapers.

As I drove back to the other side of Wisconsin after lunch, I thought about just how challenging and hard motherhood is. I frequently have people tell me how brave I am for doing what I’m doing with my life and travels. But as I watch all of my friends as mothers, I am in awe. That is one challenge that I wouldn’t be able or have the desire to meet. I find it much easier to fly off to strange countries and new cities and try to integrate in foreign places as compared to changing diapers and raising kids. Sure, that makes me a bit unusual, but I’m ok with that. I much prefer being Aunt Sherry than “Mom, (insert name here)’s hitting me!!” Plus – if I were to be a mom, that would necessitate me actually having to find someone to date that I didn’t get annoyed by eventually…and that may just be impossible.

Photo: My 6 nieces – all together for the 4th of July
NiecesThanks to all of my old friends who have come on out to see me – it’s been like a giant summer reunion for me. Sometimes it leaves me a bit baffled, wondering how in the world I have ended up on the small path that I am on and not on the interstate of motherhood and familydome. I guess I just figure that someone has to take the path less traveled.

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