MonthNovember 2014

Remembering the year

Each year Annie and I collect Christmas ornaments during our travels. We write the year on them to remember it.
I always think I’ll always remember when we took that trip to __________. And the next year I never do.

This year was a good year for travel. Pulling them out at Christmas time reminds me where we went and what we did in the past year.

It’s a good reminder of the fun we had and places we visited.

Cherry Blossom Festival

Cherry Blossom Festival

Despite (or perhaps because) we are natives to the area, we usually avoid the festival. But this year we decided to walk around the tidal basin and see the blossoms. It was a lovely spring day and a perfect time for a walk and to enjoy the blossoms.

Being from a small town near Winchester, VA I always catch myself saying Apple Blossom Festival. It was closer than DC and it was also a time to avoid the city since thousands of people would flood the town for the festival just as people flock to the tidal basin to see the Cherry Blossoms.

Annie and I took this opportunity to walk around the Jefferson Memorial, which I had never been to, despite driving past it every day for years. We also walked through the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial It’s a moving tribute to the man.

But the most surprising thing of the day was walking through the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This sprawling memorial is one I had never even heard of, but is by far one of the most beautiful memorials in the city. It winds along the water and through the cherry trees. In full bloom, with blossoms covering the ground, it gave the whole area the feel of a snowy day in spring.

The monument is practically a biography of FDR’s life and accomplishments. It’s one I have never seen pictures or nor mentioned anywhere. Stumbling across a completely unknown memorial was a real treat. In the age where everything has been photographed, videoed and shared, it was refreshing to walk through something I had never seen before.

Our next trip was more of an impulse than planned travel.

Niagara Falls

Cave of the Winds
Maid of the Mist

We had talked about a trip to see the falls. And when our anniversary came around and we found a deal on a hotel we decided to go.

We drove up the same night a meteor shower was supposed to be visible to the east coast. But it was a cloudy night so we kept driving and driving and never did find any meteors.

We did finally end up on a rural road on some small town in New York sitting on folding chairs. We stared up at the sky on the chilly May morning. We hoped to see something shooting across the sky. But alas, never did.

We eventually found a truck stop to pull into and sleep for a few hours before driving the last leg of our trip. We had originally planned to spend the night somewhere halfway there. But because of the cloud cover and our determination we were about an hour from the falls. With no hotel until the following day.

The falls were fantastic. It was a beautiful thing to see in person. We took the Maid of the Most boat ride under the falls.

We went through the hurricane deck twice. It’s an area under the falls where the icy water splashed down upon us. It was such an amazing feeling to feel the power of the falls up close.

After exploring the falls on the U.S. side we decided to visit the Canadian side the next day.

There were fireworks and a daily light show that was better seen from the Canadian side.

The next day we took our car across the border and parked it. We walked all around the touristy Canadian Niagara Falls area and went up the huge Ferris Wheel there.

We didn’t venture more into Canada since this was only a weekend trip. But I can claim I’ve been there. And enjoyed the fireworks and lights on the falls that evening.

It was a wonderful trip and I am very happy we took it.

Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo was three days of being a musical nomad. I loved it.

Bonnaroo

This ornament we had made from one of the very few photos we took there. It was a blast. We had never been to a music festival before. We camped out in the Tennessee summer and loved it.

California

California was our last trip of the year. We went out for a friend’s wedding but made it a week-long trip to explore the state.

Yosemite National Park


Yosemite was beautiful. We took a day trip out there from San Francisco and it was absolutely worth it. I got a kick out of the weather report the morning we left. There was a forty degree difference between the bay area and Yosemite itself. I think we drove from the 60s through the 100s and landed somewhere in the 80s in the park itself.

Yosemite though… It’s absolutely stunning. Given the single day we had, we didn’t see much of the park or take any long hikes. We did hike back to one, small waterfall that was mostly wisps blowing in the wind.

We did see Half Dome from Glacier Point and got a panoramic view of the valley belong with a couple of water falls. We also saw something else that wasn’t common in our trip, green. We passed so many dead hillsides en route to the park, the green was a welcomed change.

We finished the trip with a short trip to see the Redwoods in the southern part of the park. Words don’t describe just how massive they were. To see trees so many hundreds of years old and growing so massive was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, due to time, we didn’t get to hike as far into the area as I would have liked, but what we did see was worth it.

If you’re ever close enough to take a day trip to the park, you should. It’s worth the trip!

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

Before going to California, I didn’t properly understand the difference between a Sequoia and Redwoods. Now I know. Redwoods grow huge trunks. They’re the trees that can be wide enough to drive a car through. The sequoia on the other hand are tall and slender trees.

You could never hug a redwood, but you could wrap your arms around a sequoia.

Muir Woods was a peaceful experience. It was a very quiet park and I felt serene the entire time we were in the woods. I would have loved to spend the day sitting under the trees. Due to their height, they covered the sun and made a hot day, very cool and pleasant.

I would visit Yosemite for the splendor and Muir Woods for the serenity.

Cable Car

Cable Car

This last one is a bit of a cop-out. I have never ridden on a cable car. Sure, we saw plenty of them in San Francisco. But we mainly walked around the Fisherman’s Wharf area and went out to see Alcatraz. We did visit Ghirardelli Square, where we purchased nothing more than ice cream cones and this chocolate-filled ornament.

Look back at the trips we took this past year can help with the holiday blues. I tend to feel down over the holidays so it helps to remember the great things we’ve done over the past year.

There are also small trips not commemorated by ornaments this year. Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park mostly obscured by fog was a wonderful day. I have pictures from that day to remember it.

Our tree is covered in ocean life from trips to the beach and Baltimore Aquarium. There is an ornament from our first Christmas together as a married couple. Some are gifts from friends and family. Others we bought because we liked them like the multiple octopi and the original bird in hat.

When I wake up on a cold winter day and the rain and gloom is overwhelming, I love to sit by the Christmas tree, with its lights and good memories reminding me of all the great things we’ve done. And how lucky I am to have everything I do. To have found the most wonderful woman who agreed to marry me.

We have a couple of Dave & Busters things we’ve made into ornaments on the tree because that’s where we went the night before I proposed to Annie.

I never thought much about traditions and when I thought about it, I’d be hard-pressed to name many I treasured from my childhood. But I love this tradition we started. We didn’t start it our first year of marriage, so we don’t have anything from our Honeymoon in St. Thomas, though I remember looking in a K-Mart where we shopped before the hurricane blew across the island knocking out our power.

I love our Christmas ornament tradition. It’s a fun challenge to try to find something when we travel. Not just any old ornament or attraction, but something we’ve actually done. This isn’t to show off. This is something special for Annie and I to share and enjoy.

And I’m sharing it with you because making traditions with your family can be a lot of fun and rewarding. If you had asked me what holiday traditions I have now, I would struggle to remember anything. But since it’s on my mind as we decorated our tree last night, I’m sharing it with you now. Hopefully you can make your own tradition with your families, old and new.

The season of perpetual hope

It doesn’t matter what phone you use. Nor do I care what operating system you run or if you even know. I don’t care what you’re into. Just like you don’t care what I’m into. We’re all into what makes us happy.

And I try to celebrate that. I am not the best at it. I still fall into the trap of dismissing things I don’t care for. But I am aware of it and I try to get better at it. I try not to be a jerk and to genuinely be helpful.

Yesterday, as I was sitting at a Thanksgiving dinner, surrounded my families visiting their mothers and fathers with dementia, one of the daughters pushed an Android tablet towards me and asked if I could get Netflix on it. She didn’t know how.

I said sure and went to work relearning how Android has changed since I used it years ago. I found the Play Store and updated the app. I didn’t enter any payment information, skipping the step to avoid unwanted charges. I located Netflix and downloaded it on to the tablet.

I then showed the daughter where the Netflix app icon was and how to get other applications in the future. I did mention some of them may require a payment and I skipped the payment step when I downloaded Netflix. I mentioned to her it would not require payment for anything free, so if she didn’t want to add a credit card to it, she wouldn’t have to immediately.

I love technology because of what it allows us to do. I haven’t lost my sense of wonder at how I can see friends in far away states, or talk to complete strangers across time zones and continents. I still marvel at the libraries of knowledge and entertainment a single click away.

Technology is my life. But it shouldn’t have to be everyone’s. I had no idea what I was doing with the Android tablet when she handed it over to me. But I figured it out and didn’t ask a thousand questions. I chose some sensible defaults and explained what I had done.

When a movie is just a movie

The science in Gravity was all wrong. Interstellar has no idea how space works. 2001: A Space Odyssey had some computer problems.

I don’t care.

I go to see a movie to entertainment. I want to escape. I want to lose myself in someone else’s story. I want to be entertained.

I am not concerned about accuracy of physics in a movie. I don’t care if the science is off. I want to be amused. I want to see a story being told. I don’t care if it’s accurate.

It’s a story, someone has chosen to tell. And I am ready to watch it.

Free food and decision making

Steve Jobs wore a black turtle neck with jeans. Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt everyday. Their reasons are the same. They don’t have to think about what to wear. They wake up and get dressed. No stressing about what to wear, what’s clean and what it matches. They get up, dress and get on with their day.

Alan Martin bought a 6-week pass to Olive Garden has the right idea when it comes to meals. Man eating nothing but Olive Garden speaks out: “I have not had one meal that was not just perfect”

I hate meal planning. I hate trying to decide on a menu the week before I eat it. Figuring out lunch is more taxing. If there are leftovers, I can take them. If we make a big batch of food during the weekend, there’s plenty for lunches. But most of the time, if we’ve eaten out or not made extra food, I have to decide what to take for lunch.

I’ll buy something either at the cafeteria at work or at a local restaurant but that gets expensive fast. If I think about it, I’ll make a sandwich the night before, or more rarely, the morning before I leave.

If I didn’t have to think about lunch or dinner, I would be in heaven. And while I love food, I can happily eat the same thing everyday. I’ve lived for weeks off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Having multiple jellies and jams helps, but I’m still a creature of habit when it comes to food. I’m too tired to think about what I want to eat. I just want something ready for me. If I had a job where lunch was provided, I would jump at the chance. If there was a platter of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches provided, that’d be perfect. I don’t need gourmet food. Just something to eat and get me through the day.


Alan Martin has taken advantage of this deal, which was only available to 1,000 people. He paid $100 for the card from Olive Garden.

It’s not about the food for him, it’s about the money.

I’m at about $1,600 in value and I’ve got four more days to try to get another couple hundred dollars out of the Olive Garden. Right now, I would really love to get to $1,800. If I could say I collected $1,800 in Olive Garden meals, that is big. I don’t know what city you’re in or anything, but in rural North Carolina, that’s a big deal.

That’s a big deal anywhere you are. And he’s not eaten every single meal he’s picked up.

Last week I was driving by and I stopped at a corner and a man was there, a homeless man with a sign and I said, “Come over here.” And he came over to the car and I opened the door—I’ve got a sliding glass door on my van—and I pushed the button to open the door and I said, “Get that Olive Garden bag. It’s got soup, spaghetti and meatballs, everything you need to have a great meal.” And he was so happy, and he took it and he went over and sat out in the woods and started eating that Olive Garden meal. I felt good about that, helping him.

In addition to handing some of them out, he’s been saving some for later. He’s able to pick up two meals on weekdays and three on the weekends.

I have been freezing some [meals]. I can’t eat ‘em all and they start stacking up in the refrigerator so I vacuum seal ‘em and I’ve got about thirty out there in the freezer that I will eventually eat.

That’s some major food storage and easy meals for later when they don’t feel like cooking or when money is tight.


Last year, during the government shutdown, I took part in Chick Fil-A’s First 100 event. Say what you will about their politics, I camped out at a store opening during October in Maryland. It poured rain on us for most of that time. The rules were we had to stay on the store’s premises but not inside the store (save bathroom use.)

So we huddled in tents and under umbrellas. What did I get out of it? I got three meals from the restaurant for the 24 hours I was camped out there.

But the main attraction was the “free meals for a year.” Which was 52 free meal coupons. This was good for a Chick Fil-A sandwich, waffle fries and a drink.

Then, for the next year my wife and I would walk in to the store, ask for “Two Number 1s” and hand over two coupons. I got a smile on my face watching the $12.xx reduce to nothing with the coupons.

My savings was only about $300. But for the weeks I was out of work, it gave us somewhere to go and get some free food. It was nice to get out of the house and have a meal out that we didn’t have to pay for.

They’re good for a year and we used our last two in September. This is my way of saying I absolutely understand where this guy is coming from and his desire to get as much out of this deal as possible.

I salute you Alan Martin. Collect your meals. Stash them away. Save yourself the money, time and decisions free food can offer.

How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri – NYTimes.com

It all began simply enough. I’d just read one of those ubiquitous Internet lists called “21 Things You Didn’t Know Your iPhone Could Do.” One of them was this: I could ask Siri, “What planes are above me right now?” and Siri would bark back, “Checking my sources.” Almost instantly there was a list of actual flights — numbers, altitudes, angles — above my head.

I happened to be doing this when Gus was nearby. “Why would anyone need to know what planes are flying above your head?” I muttered. Gus replied without looking up: “So you know who you’re waving at, Mommy.”

Via How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri – NYTimes.com

This story had me in tears before I was halfway through it. It’s so great to see technology making someone’s life better. It’s the promise technology often fails to live up to. The way Judith Newman captures her son’s friendship with Siri deserves its own feature-length movie.

The illustrations are perfect too. This one is my favorite.

Thanks Jason for sharing this story.