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All posts for the month December, 2016

I’m done with my big 2016 trips, so back to 1988.

I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t really into history at this point in my life, so the thing that is causing me to stop and research rather than writing didn’t even register to me back then. Christ Church is the church that a number of prominent Philadelphians, including Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, George Washington (once he was president), John Adams (likewise), and William Penn all worshiped here.

One problem, though. Ross and Penn were Quakers.

So here I am, trying to figure out why a bunch of Quakers were worshiping in an Anglican church. So far, I’ve been able to determine that Betsy Ross’s husband, John, was Anglican, and so she got expelled from the Quakers for marrying a non-Quaker. During the American Revolution, the Quaker meeting in Philadelphia splintered into two groups, one that believed that sticking to their pacifism was important, and one that believed that the revolution was a just war and that they had a duty to support it. Betsy was able to join this second group of Quakers, who dubbed themselves the Free Quakers.

William Penn is the real poser, though. He founded Pennsylvania because he was a Quaker. Quakers were outlawed in England and so he found Pennsylvania to be a place where Quakers would be free to practice their religion. So then he moved here and promptly started attending an Anglican church? It just doesn’t add up. Maybe the Quakers met at Christ Church (the Arch Street Friends meetinghouse wasn’t built until 1804)? I have a coworker who’s from Pennsylvania. Maybe she knows. I’ll try to remember to ask her.

So I did ask my coworker and she didn’t know that William Penn had attended an Anglican church, so that’s a dead end. I guess we’ll just have to leave that as a head-scratcher. If I ever do find an answer, I’ll let y’all know.

After we left the church, we wandered around in the Burial Ground for a while. The website for the church says that there are currently 1,400 markers and that over 5,000 have disappeared. So this little burial ground, just two acres in area, contains over 6,000 graves.

Next up: Fairmount Park, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and the realization that I need to dig out that photo album and rescan the final five pictures.

I’m in a quandary. Remember how I said that I was probably going to start putting Amazon Associates links in my posts if they seemed appropriate?

Well, the next National Geographic post that I’m going to write (I’m three posts ahead right now (not counting what I hope will be another link dump thing for New Year’s Day) so this is my post for January 7 or so that I’m talking about) is going to be on an article about great white sharks. And I’ve got, like, four things that I can link to.

But I don’t want it to look spammy to Google, even though all four things are on-topic. Two are the book and movie versions of Jaws and the third is the second Young Wizards book, Deep Wizardry, but in order to make that book make sense, one would need to read the first Young Wizards book, So You Want to Be a Wizard. I really love the stuff about sharks in Deep Wizardry far more than the movie of Jaws, so I’m really leaning towards that.

Maybe National Geographic has done/will do some other articles on great white sharks in the past and I can link Jaws when I get there. That won’t look too spammy, will it?

A little later than I’d planned (I’d hoped to have this up 23.5 hours earlier than I actually ended up posting it), but I finally got out to take pictures of the lights here in the city. This year Alex and I went to the University of the Incarnate Word to take pictures, and I got a pretty good one of the Brackenridge Villa:

Brackenridge Villa, San Antonio

Brackenridge Villa, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas, 2016

Hopefully next year, we’ll have more energy and can take some Christmas pictures before the night of Christmas itself.

I’m still working on my next National Geographic post, but I need something for December 22, so here’s something short to use as a filler until I get the next post made (December 24, looks like).

So what do I take with me when I travel? I am only 5 feet 2 inches tall, and I generally book the cheap seats. This means that the overhead bins are generally filled by the time I get there and generally no one helps put my bag up. So I just check a bag. It costs a bit more, but compared to fighting over bin space (and having to drag the damn thing out of the bin when we land), a few dollars isn’t going to hurt.

This means that I need a smallish suitcase (since I may be willing to pay to check a bag, but I’m not willing to pay for an oversized bag) and a “personal item,” which is generally a backpack.

I used to travel with my laptop, and then with my tablet, but nowadays my phone is pretty much my only electronic item. Alex and I bought those lithium batteries that you can use to charge your phone when you’re away while we were in Idaho this year, so I take that as well.

Since I’m checking a bag, I bring whole containers of toiletries. My routine is pretty simple: shampoo, soap, the face cream with sunblock that I use instead of makeup, my leg razor, anti-perspirant and toothbrush, and toothpaste are pretty much it.

Then I bring enough shirts to change every day, plus one extra just in case. I bring two pairs of shoes (sandals and walking shoes) and a pair of socks for each day. I also bring two more pairs of underpants than the number of days I’ll be gone, in case of emergencies. I also have several of those broomstick skirts and generally bring at least one on each trip because they are very comfortable for traveling in. If I’m feeling particularly girly on one of my travel days, I may wear a skirt on that day as well. I prefer knit pants to jeans and have a couple of capri-length ones and some full-length ones, I’ll bring at least one pair of each and also a pair of shorts. If we’ll have access to a swimming pool, I’ll bring my bathing suit, but I haven’t used it since 2013. I wonder if it still fits. And, of course, a clean set of pajamas. I finally broke down and bought new pajama bottoms this year. Still using the same tops, though.

If I’m sure that I’m going to have access to a laundry room, I bring a few of those Tide Pods (I’m still working on the bag of them that I got in 2013 or so) and can cut down on the clothing that I bring with by a bit. I’ll bring only 2/3 as many shirts as I’ll need and maybe half as many pairs of socks and take out two pairs of underpants, so I’m down to one per day. That way if the washer is out of service and I end up doing laundry with shampoo in my hotel sink (and, yes, I have done that) I’ll still be able to make it through the trip.

Pretty much all that’s left is entertainment. If we’ll be gone a long time I’ll sometimes bring my portable DVD player with, but I’ve only done that once or twice. I do, however, always bring several books and at least one National Geographic issue. I generally have one hard copy book and put at least two books on my phone. That way my entertainment needs are covered whether I can use my phone or not.

The last time I looked at the official list of parks, I thought that O.P. Schnabel Park was listed under “O” and that I’d skipped it, but apparently it’s under “S” and so it’s up next.

Schnabel Park was founded in 1964 with the name “Bandera Road Park,” which is certainly descriptive, but not very exciting. In 1977, they renamed the park in honor of O.P. Schnabel, founder of the Beautify San Antonio Association. Do you know how hard I had to dig to find even that little bit on Schnabel? Honestly. I searched Google for his name and the first three pages or so were all articles on the park. I tried putting a “-park” in there and, apparently due to a bug, still listed the park. So frustrating. I even tried Find a Grave to no avail. Apparently, wherever his grave is hasn’t been indexed yet. Finally, I got the “-park” to work and you know what I found? Lots of listings on the OP Schnabel apartments. Picture me resting my elbows on my keyboard tray and putting my face in my hands here. So, then I tried again with “-park -apartment” and finally got, like two things on the man, both of which were writeups for the Beautify San Antonio Association archives. I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Schnabel Park Deer

Deer at OP Schnabel Park, San Antonio, Texas

As you might expect from the prevalence of the park in the Google results, Schnabel Park is one of the best parks in the city. The park has two picnic pavilions, a kitchen, sports fields (baseball, basketball, soccer), at least two playgrounds, restrooms, a swimming pool and at least 4.5 miles of hiking trails. Schnabel Park also has a trail head for the Leon Creek Greenway and is home to the Braundera YMCA. I also know some people who go rock-climbing there as well, though I’m not sure if that’s an officially sanctioned activity.

Alex and I have seen a decent amount of wildlife in the park on our visits, including a buck who walked across the path right in front of us (see image).  We have also seen several military aircraft fly overhead including, on one memorable occasion, a C-5 Galaxy. We also have attempted to access the Leon Creek Greenway from the park a few times, and the trailhead is quite a ways from the actual greenway, so we usually give up before getting to the greenway.

Stranded on the Roof of the World, by Michael Finkel, photographs by Matthieu Paley

In this article, we visit the Kyrgyz of the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. The Wakhan Corridor runs from a low of about 10,000 feet to a height of about 16,000 feet. That puts the entirety of these people’s world above the tree line. Many of them have never even seen a tree. At the time this was written, there were no doctors and no roads. The closest road to their territory was  a three-day hike away.

Their entire lifestyle revolves around their livestock. They live too high to grow crops, so they raise sheep and yaks and goats both to eat and to use as currency. They have been able to enter something like the 21st century by trade as well. They have solar-powered batteries and use them to charge cell phones, which they use to play music and take pictures. They cannot use them as phones, however. There’s no service that high up.

So far, however, it looks like that is as far as modernization has gone. They still lack basics like plumbing, roads, schools, and medical clinics.

Joy Is Round, photographs by Jessica Hilltout, text by Jeremy Berlin

Hilltout traveled to Africa and took photographs of African youths playing soccer (football to the rest of the world) and posing with their homemade soccer balls both to chronicle the development of the youth soccer leagues of these countries but also, from what I can tell, to convince people to donate money to a project that would buy real equipment for these leagues. As she traveled through Africa, she swapped the homemade balls for real balls that she carried in her car. Included in this article are the photographs she took of those balls.

While researching Hilltout’s project, I found Futbol Friends International’s website. They are raising money for soccer-related projects in Africa. I looked to see if they’re on the up-and-up and so far have found that Charity Navigator has a page for them, but hasn’t rated them because they are too small to have to file the form that Charity Navigator gets their information from. If you’d be interested in donating, however, their website is at Futbol Friends International.

The Sultans of Streams, by Adam Nicolson, photographs by Charlie Hamilton James

The Sultans of Streams, in addition to getting an old Dire Straits song stuck in my head, is about the decline and resurgence of otters in England (their numbers never declined much in Scotland). Industrialization and DDT caused the decline of otter habitat to only 6 percent of streams in the 1970s. Since then, however, they have been making a comeback. As of 2010, otters were present in 59 percent of streams and the numbers have probably increased even farther since then (I cannot find anything definitive).

I guess that “post-mortem” is probably as good a term as “look back” or “wrapup”or any other term that comes across more neutral, particularly after that election.

So, here goes.

  1. We all know how that election went. The less said about that the better. However, I did offer to do something to help the Bexar County Democratic Party. What will I do? No clue. Let’s see what I come up with. Perhaps I’ll have something definitive to say at the end of December or January.
  2.  I did catch up on my steps with one day to spare. I ended up averaging a little over 8700 steps.
  3. I did not win NaNoWriMo. 2016 may have been one of my worst years yet, with just a little over 10,000 words. But there’s always 2017. And I don’t mean just November. I attempt the same goal in February, April, June, and September, as well. If I make it, I at least will know that I can do it.
  4. I’m sticking to my schedule of working on my language skills. I’m doing a couple of Duolingo Spanish lessons every day and also a few Rosetta Stone lessons. My employer is one of the companies that gives access to Rosetta Stone to its employees and so, based on my experience with customers with limited English, I’ve chosen Vietnamese. I’m almost done with Unit One. If I keep to my schedule, I estimate that I’ll spend about six months learning Vietnamese. I also try to do an Italian and a German Duolingo lesson every day and I’m trying to get back into Rosetta Stone Mandarin. I’m paying myself more for Rosetta Stone because Rosetta Stone lessons take a lot longer than Duolingo ones. So far I’ve saved up over $14 and will have accrued at least a penny in interest by the end of the month.

Looks like we’ll be returning to 1988 on or around December 2, because this brings me to the end of our 2016 travels.

Having discovered previously that the hotel breakfast was somewhat less exciting than one could hope, Alex and I skipped it and instead checked out of our hotel, leaving our suitcases behind the front desk. Then we started off for Lincoln Park. Now, as I have told you before, my folks and I didn’t spend much time in Lincoln Park in the past, and I had hoped to spend some time exploring the park. We had two things counting against us however. 1. We had plans to meet with Alex’s uncle (my former brother-in-law) for lunch so we had to get to the park, do whatever exploring we needed to do, and get back to the uncle’s work by 1:00 and 2. It was really bleeding hot out there that day. You’d think that nearly a quarter of a century in South Texas would make me immune to the heat, but if anything, I think it’s made me more sensitive.

Alex and I had been eyeing the Water Taxi service for our entire trip, and this was our chance. We caught the Water Taxi at 2 North Riverside Plaza and took it all the way to the Michigan Avenue Bridge. I got pictures of some of the more famous buildings of Chicago — Marina Towers, the Merchandise Mart, 333 Wacker Drive and so on from the river level. Once we were on street level, we took a bus to Lincoln Park. I had kind of hoped to stop at the Water Tower on our way up, but apparently if you are using cash you can’t get the transfer on the bus.

Once we got to Lincoln Park, we headed directly for the zoo. I put a few dollars in the “support the zoo” donation jar and we got to exploring. Fortunately I had been to Lincoln Park Zoo in the previous 15 years or so, so I at least knew about the Park Place Cafe food court. Because that was one of our first stops. We got some veggies and pop (and I think we bought a pastry of some sort?) and fortified ourselves for the walk.

We explored pretty much all of the zoo, but it was getting late and I had one more stop that I wanted to make before heading to lunch.  Back in 2014, when Alex and I went to Italy, we went to the beach in Santa Severa and I took a picture of my feet in the Mediterranean. I followed that up with my feet in the Great Salt Lake, and so, of course, I needed to get a picture of my feet in Lake Michigan (even though I’ve swum in Lake Michigan a bunch of times, I felt that I needed that picture for a sense of completion). So Alex and I hiked out to the lake and I got my picture. Then we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus to a couple of blocks north of his uncle’s work.

Lincoln Park Lake Chicago

The lake outside Cafe Brauer, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, looking south towards downtown, 2016

We had a very nice (if a bit brief) lunch with his uncle, and then Alex and I headed back north on Michigan Avenue. I really, really wanted Alex to see the Water Tower, as it is such an important landmark for the city. As we walked, I pointed out some of the more interesting buildings (including Chicago Place, which was a mall for about 20 years but is currently being converted into office space).

After we visited the Water Tower, we walked back down Michigan Avenue until just after we crossed the Michigan Avenue Bridge and hiked back along the new-ish Riverwalk of the river. When I was growing up, all there was along the river were steep cliffs of concrete. I really enjoyed the landscaping and construction along the Riverwalk and hope that this ends up being a real boon to the city.

Then we walked back to our hotel, picked up our suitcases, and headed off to the subway station to begin our trip back to Texas.

New Old Libya, by Robert Draper, photographs by George Steinmetz

As we go farther and farther back, the “ripped from the headlines” nature of some of these articles is blunted a bit. Can’t wait until we take a “look forward” at what will happen to Cuba under Castro and things of that nature. Today we look back at the developments in Libya after the 2011 death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Prior to Libya’s independence in 1950, Libya had previously been run by the United Nations, then prior to that, by Italy, and then prior to *that* by the Ottoman Empire and then prior to that by Rome. In fact, emperor Septimius Severus had been born in Libya, in a city known as Leptus Magna. When Gaddafi took power in 2011, he disdained all of this history, particularly the parts where the country had been ruled by Rome and Italy.

In this article, we see a picture of Libya in very late 2012 as a country that is moving both toward its future while trying to recapture the past that Gaddafi tried to suppress. We see the unrest that still existed in late 2012, but we also see people going on with their lives, hopeful that they will have a future.

And, of course, as we know now, the first war in 2011 that led to the fall and death of Gaddafi, was followed by a second war that continues, well, at least until I’m writing this in 2016. Now Libya his hemorrhaging people, with thousands of people fleeing every year.

I’m hoping to start studying Vietnamese in 2017, because it’s one of the languages that I have to use the translation service for most in my job. It looks like I may also need to learn Arabic because immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations are on the rise here, as well. My side of town is where groups like Catholic Charities like to resettle the refugees because services are easy to access in this area.

The Bite that Heals, by Jennifer S. Holland, photographs by Mattias Klum

In The Bite that Heals, Holland takes us to speak with scientists who are making medication from venom. We start in Mexico, where a man named Michael was healed of his ankylosing spondylitis apparently by a scorpion sting. At the time this article went to press, about a dozen medications had been developed from venom, including the blood pressure medication captopril. The web page of Zoltan Takacs, one of the scientists that Holland speaks with, has a list of (at this time) around 15 medications that are currently being sold that are derived from venom. This list has an additional five that are in clinical trials.