We’re Possibly Rearranging Our Upcoming Travel . . .

I’m currently in the process of rethinking our upcoming travel schedules.  Not for 2016; those are paid for and thus graven in stone at this point. Rather, I’m rethinking 2017 and following years.  Originally, we were planning to go to Europe in 2017, but then I discovered the SAIL Amsterdam event, which is an event where tall ships converge on Amsterdam every five years.  The next one will be in 2020.  I really wanted to take Alex for this, however, SAIL Amsterdam is held in late August, which would interfere with his school schedule (even though Alex will be in college by then).

When I was considering taking Alex to SAIL Amsterdam, I thought about taking Alex to Canada in 2017.  Then I discovered that SAIL Amsterdam was too late in the summer, so I was back to Europe in 2017. However, when I was researching other tall ships events, I found that there is a tall ships thing in Quebec City during what would be my normal window for our big vacation (from the Monday after the second Friday in July until the fourth Friday in July) in 2017.  This is perfect.  I had also hoped to return to New York City in July of 2017 anyhow, so we could fly out to New York, then take the train from there.  It would probably be easier to take the train from New York to Toronto then go in a circle, coming back to New York from Montreal, but we wouldn’t be able to spend much time in Toronto that way, not and make it to Quebec City in time.  Maybe Montreal, then right to Quebec City and then take our time coming back through Montreal to Toronto and back to New York?  That’s got some potential.

I’m not sure what will happen with Europe now.  2018?  We usually go to see a volcano in even-numbered years, and there are three volcanoes in Germany, so we could do that.  Or we could stick with our current plan to go to Seattle (Mount Rainier would be our volcano in that case) in 2018 and go to Europe in 2019.

If we do the New York to Canada and back to New York thing in 2017, both times I’ve flown out of Terminal 2 at JFK, I’ve had terrible vertigo, so don’t let me forget my Benadryl.

South Texas Destinations: The Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, Texas

The Institute of Texan Cultures (“ITC”) is hard to really pin down simply.  The building was the Texas Pavilion in HemisFair ’68 and the ITC is now a museum dedicated to the cultural origins of  Texans, I guess?  Inside the museum, there are sections dedicated to the prehistoric peoples of Texas, the indigenous population, and many of the (largely European) nations that had immigrants to Texas (Germany has a large section which includes an entire gazebo).  There is also a display on the history of Jewish people in Texas, and an entire sharecropper’s cabin from the early 1900s.

Institute of Texan Cultures
The Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio, Texas, in 2014.

Outside the building is what is known as the “back forty.” This area holds a number of buildings representing different eras of Texas’s history. There’s a one-room schoolhouse, an adobe house, a “dogtrot” log cabin (that is a kind of cabin that has two separate buildings connected by a sort of breezeway), a stone building that is supposed to represent the forts of Texas, and a barn.

From what I can determine, the ITC is a pretty standard fourth-grade field trip in San Antonio.  In Texas, fourth grade is dedicated to Texas state history.  I was one of the chaperones when Alex’s fourth-grade class made the trip, so I’ve had that experience, at least.

Once you’re out of fourth grade, however, the only time most residents are likely (though not, of course, guaranteed) to return is for one of the two annual festivals held there.  The first weekend after the lunar new year is the Asian New Year festival.  City organizations representing many of the cultures of Asia that have communities here come and sell representative samples of food.  Traditionally, I get a masala dosa (from the Indian vendor), a bubble drink (from Tong’s Thai) and a kalua pork (from the Hawaiian vendor).  Martial arts and Asian dancing organizations give demonstrations and/or performances, as appropriate, and the San Antonio Bonsai Society and Ikebana San Antonio also have displays on the ground floor of the building.

The other festival is the Texas Folklife Festival, held the second weekend of June. The Texas Folklife Festival is a much bigger deal.  You can buy the t-shirts not just at the event but in stores as well. A lot of the same Asian vendors are there for the Folklife Festival, and there are a lot of other cultures represented, including a Native American booth, and a large number of European cultures (Germany, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, and others — in past years they have had a Czech booth and a Spanish booth, but neither has been there in recent years). I at the very least have to get a Belgian waffle, though they’re just ordinary waffles and not liège waffles. But regular waffles are okay in my opinion. Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard traditionally has a vendor table, and I bought a sapling from them back in, oh, 2006 or 2007, I think.  I had my first crop of olives in 2014.  It rained too much for olives in 2015.  It may have rained enough that it won’t fruit this year, either.

All in all, though, even if you aren’t there for one of the festivals (though if you are able to be there for either one, I highly recommend going), it’s a nice little history museum and, if you didn’t attend fourth grade in San Antonio, it’s probably worth a trip.

National Geographic December 2015, Part 1

As I write this, on April 2, 2016, I am almost done with the June April 1889 issue.  I should finish it tomorrow during my greenway hike.  I haven’t decided which greenway I’m going to hike on.  It’s likely that it’ll be the Leon Creek Greenway, since I’m closer to being finished with that one.  I’ve only walked from about halfway between Huebner Road and Hardberger Park to the point where the trail goes under US 281.

Update, April 3, 2016:  I ended up finishing up the northern end of the Salado Creek Greenway.  Now I can say that I’ve walked that entire greenway north from US-281.

The Virgin Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World, by Maureen Orth, photographs by Diana Markosian

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not Catholic.  As a Protestant, I don’t believe that Mary stayed a virgin after the birth of Jesus. The “brothers and sisters” mentioned in verses like Matthew 13:55 & 56 and Mark 6:3 are, well, the children of Mary and Joseph. Not Jesus’s cousins.  Not the children of Joseph and an unnamed first wife.  Therefore, throughout this article, I will strive to always call her just “Mary.” I did grow up in a predominantly Catholic area, so an occasional “Virgin Mary” may slip in.

This article focuses largely on apparitions of Mary.  We start in Medugorje, and make mentions of Fatima, Portugal; Kibeho, Rwanda on our way to discuss the “Virgin of Guadalupe,” the 1531 apparition of Mary to Juan Diego (who was canonized in 2002) on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. After Mary appeared to Juan Diego, the bishop wanted some proof, so Mary had Juan Diego fill his cloak with roses. When Juan Diego brought the roses to the bishop, the cloak had the image of Mary on it.  The cloak has been on display in an series of shrines, churches, and finally, a basilica since then.  Orth spends a couple hundred words describing the image, yet there is no picture of it in the article. I took a quick trip down to the Oblate Seminary to visit their Tepeyac Shrine (and also their Lourdes Grotto and the accompanying chapel), then discovered that the Wikimedia photograph I had used as a reference when reading the article was in the public domain, so I’ll be including that (if WordPress will let me upload it.  Grrr.).  I am pretty proud of the picture of the statue that I took, though, so maybe I’ll use that, as well.

Virgin of Guadalupe.
The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the cloak of Saint Juan Diego. A public domain image downloaded from Wikimedia Commons

One turn of phrase had me wondering about Orth’s religious background.  She describes the image on the cloak as perhaps showing Mary “dancing in prayer.”  This is not a common phrase.  In fact, Google has only around 79,000 hits for the phrase, and at least once, there’s a comma in between “dancing” and “in.” Apparently, she is Catholic, so I wish she had elaborated on that phrase.

Orth also discusses the importance of Mary in Islam and we meet Muslim women who go into Christian churches to venerate Mary.  Orth also tells about an apparition of Mary in Cairo, Egypt, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  And then we finally get to Lourdes.  The Song of Bernadette with Jennifer Jones was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up (I seem to recall that they used to show it every Easter on WGN). When we were moving during my childhood, we kept the stuff that we didn’t want the movers to handle in a self-storage place that backed up to I’m-not-even-sure what.  A kind of unkempt marshy area. I used to like to visit it and never quite understood why until my mom pointed out that it looked kind of like the grotto from the movie.  So I quite liked this part, though I was still kind of annoyed at the lack of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe that I didn’t like it as much as I should have.

The Science of Delicious, by David Owen, photographs by Brian Finke

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this article, since I’m a “nontaster.” Stuff like mayonnaise and sour cream tastes nasty to me, as do wine and cilantro.  As a result, I’m far more motivated by texture than by flavor.  I don’t like the texture of fat in my mouth, so when the low-fat diet became a “thing,” it was wonderful.  I could order chicken without the skin or other lean protein choices without seeming like a “picky eater.”  I could order things without the heavy cream sauces or avocado and the waiter would just chalk it up to attempting to be a healthy eater.

Owen assumes that everyone experiences broccoli as bitter, but I don’t. I’m highly motivated by my sense of smell, so while I quite like raw broccoli, I don’t eat cooked broccoli at all. Cooking brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) releases sulfur compounds which makes them smell bad.  Anything that smells like that will never make it past my nose. I have one co-worker whose daily lunch of microwaved broccoli nearly drove me from our break room more than once.

Aside from the anti-broccoli bias, the article is pretty even-handed.  It mostly talks about the relatively recent discovery that the tongue really has the same kinds of taste buds all over it (as opposed to the mapped out areas that people of my age learned about in school) and that we have two senses of smell — the one that comes through our noses and one that comes up the back of the nasal cavity.  The smells that go up the back of the nasal cavity register in the same part of the brain that registers taste.

Owen talks about sweetness a lot, and this is another place where I am an outlier.  Artificial sweeteners (including sucralose) taste bitter to me.  The only non-sugar sweeteners that taste good to me are the sugar alcohols such as mannitol and xylitol.  Fortunately, I don’t seem to be subject to the digestive distress that some experience from sugar alcohols.

My now-ex, Alex, and I all took an actual test to determine our taster gene status.  I bought testing papers from a scientific supply company and everything (this is why I can say for certain that I’m a nontaster).  Alex is a supertaster and his tastes and mine are much closer than either of ours with his dad (who is a regular taster).  Alex actually prefers things a little blander and lower-fat than I do, even.

Photo Scanning Project Update

To recap, I lost my data drive back in December and have been trying to catch up to where I was the last time I backed up, in September.  I am also backing up on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.  I have a 32 gig SD card and every day (or two, or week, but no less frequently than that), I find every file I’ve changed that day/two days/week and copy it to a directory named for that day’s date.  I’ve been doing this since December and I still have 24 gig free on the card.

The most challenging part of this process is finding the files I’ve changed that day.  I have Windows 8.1 and one of the changes from Windows 8 is that when you search for files, it also pulls up the directory, so that, if you have, say five pictures in that directory, all modified that day, you will end up finding ten files — the five files and the five files in the directory.  I don’t know.  I’ve been trying to figure out why it does that, and, more importantly, how to stop it.

This also makes it hard to take a count of how many pictures I’ve scanned in.  I think I’m at around 4,700, but don’t know for certain.  I’m currently in the middle of scanning in a book of pictures of my uncle and his family that I think my mom inherited from my maternal grandfather.  I think I’m pretty close to halfway done with this book, but I just realized that I should probably be scanning in the captions from the back.  I’ve done that with other albums, so I should do it with this one.

That sound you heard was my head hitting my desk. Repeatedly.

Just don’t let me forget to back this stuff up tonight. . . .

45 minutes later: Apparently I hadn’t missed that many captions, because I’m now caught up on scanning in the backs of the pictures just in time to give my dad his eyedrops, take my own inhaler, and head off to bed.

Our 1982 Florida Trip — A Little Free-Asssociation

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out whether we did anything new on our Florida trip other than visiting EPCOT at Walt Disney World.

Let’s see.  My mom had talked to my cousin and my cousin had told her that my other cousin (her son) had bought all of the Dungeons and Dragons manuals and that they contained the ritual for a black mass*.  My mom believed it, but I didn’t.  So I remember spending a lot of time reading manuals looking for that passage.  I never found it, believe it or not.  My mom believed my cousin until the day she died. When a group approached her to allow them to play D&D in her library, she refused based on my cousin’s story.

I saw Poltergeist on that trip. I somehow ended up sitting between my cousin and her husband, and her husband literally sat there and laughed at me for being frightened. I was one of those kids who always thought that there was something under my bed when I was little, so Spielberg’s script and Hooper’s direction played right into those early childhood fears in a way that would have had me chewing on my fingernails, if I had had even the slightest beginning of an inkling how to chew my fingernails (I made a friend who chewed his a few years later and somehow it was totally different from what I’d imagined).

I guess the only other interesting thing about that part of the trip was my first outing without a bra (I left my strapless bra at home and my dress had spaghetti straps).  Fortunately I’m not abundantly endowed, so while it was kind of awkward, it didn’t actually hurt like it would have been for some of the women I’ve been friends with.

We had car trouble on the way home and ended up unexpectedly spending the night in Tennessee. Fortunately the mechanic was able to get the part we needed and get us on the road.  The night we got home, our dog was still being boarded at the vet’s office, so we dropped off our suitcases and went to see E.T.

*We aren’t Catholic.

Greenway Walk Progress

This isn’t an official South Texas Destination — yet.  But it will be eventually, so I’m categorizing it as one.

As I believe I’ve said before, my plan is to eventually visit the entire Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System, which, since they’re still building more trails, is a pretty long-term project.  I also hope to walk the entire River Walk, but that’s a different project entirely.

I now have walked the Leon Creek Greenway almost from the Valero Trailhead at 1604 to the Leon Vista Trailhead.  I estimate that that is about 7 or 8 miles of walking.  When I say “almost,” I have missed two spots.  One, from Fox Park northwards to just north of the Northside Independent School District bus parking lot, will be pretty easy to knock out if they ever finish the construction on Hausman Road.  Just getting to the parking lot for the Fox Park Trailhead is a challenge at the moment.

The other missed section will require a chauffeur.  I walked south from the Buddy Caulk Trailhead and north from the Leon Vista Trailhead and in the time allotted to me, I missed meeting these two paths up by about two blocks.  I will need someone to drive me to the closest street to that area to drop me off, then that person will need to pick me up twenty minutes later.  This will be something that I will leave to the very end of the project.

Next up will be from the Mainland Trailhead (behind the Bandera Road Walmart) north to the Leon Vista Trailhead and then south from the Leon Vista Trailhead as far as I can go.  I don’t think I can make it all the way to the next parking lot, which looks like it’s a couple of miles away.

I’d better load more 1880s National Geographics onto my phone for this one.

National Geographic September 2013, Part 2

Untamed Antarctica, by Freddie Wilkinson, photographs by Cory Richards

I frequently tell people that I want to go “everywhere.” And I really do.  However, if going to places like Kenya and India and the Netherlands and Australia mean that places like the Wohlthat Mountains end up being squeezed out, i won’t be too disappointed.

Wilkinson, Richards, and two other adventurers, Mike Libecki and Keith Ladzinski, went off to the unclimbed mountains of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica with the goal of summitting as many mountains as they could.   We accompany the team up a spire that they name Bertha’s Tower, named apparently for Libecki’s grandmother.  They take two weeks to climb Bertha’s Tower, and at one point, Wilkinson has to spend the night outside of their shelter in just a sleeping bag.

Untamed Antarctica was a very quick read, and I found it fascinating, but the desire to follow in their footsteps just wasn’t there.

Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, by Robert Draper, photographs by Pascal Maitre

We’re back in Africa again, only there’s not so much unrest this time. Rather, Kinshasa, Urban Pulse of the Congo, is about the art scene in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We meet painters and sculptors and performers, seeing how they express their fears and concerns and, sometimes, their hopes.

All is, of course, not rosy.  This is the Democratic Republic of the Congo here.  Draper has to deal with street children and corrupt officials.  But Draper makes it through and even gets to comission a painting of his dog from one of the artists profiled.

We will see/have seen the team of Pascal and Maitre in October 2015, when they travel up the Congo River to Kisangani.

Failure is an Option, by Hannah Bloch

Failure is an Option is a meditation on failure and the importance of failing.  Failure is an important, and possibly even necessary, part of progress.  Before you learn what you can do, you sometimes have to learn what you can’t.

My own favorite meditation on failure, by the way, is the 2007 Disney movie Meet the Robinsons.  As Billie Robinson says, From failing, you learn.  From success, not so much.