We Did Some Pre-Trip Shopping Today

I should have picked up some of these things earlier, but as much as I try to get things done early, sometimes it doesn’t work out so well.  Last year we had a nearly twelve-hour delay getting to Rome and I lost quite a bit of money on train tickets to Naples that I had booked gambling that we wouldn’t be delayed by more than five hours.  This made me a little wary of spending too much money too early in the planning stages.  Then, just as I was about to start spending the money for things, an old health problem of my father’s popped up again.  About four years ago, my dad hit himself in the eye with a bungee cord a couple of years ago (Public service announcement:  Please be careful with bungee cords.  My dad’s ophthalmologist says that she sees a lot of bungee cord injuries.  If you cannot consistently keep your head out of the range of the cord, then please wear eye protection) and that eye was pretty red last week, so I thought that if it got much worse I might have to cancel the trip entirely so that I could be there for him.

Anyway, as of 7:45 this morning, we were 48 hours from departure, so I figured that we had better pick up those last few things that I’d been putting off.

My son and I started out the day walking in a new-to-us park that was pretty convenient considering the locations of the stores we wanted to visit.  We got there sometime around 11:30 this morning, and it was 90 degrees in the shade and there was no shade.  That may have been the fastest walk we’ve ever taken — the S Health app actually thinks we ran for part of it.

I also needed a lighter suitcase and carry-on bag.  I dragged my old suitcase and carry-on about half a mile through Naples last year and nearly considered just leaving the bag behind. My new suitcase is one of those ultralight ones and my carry-on is a fabric backpack.  Together they weigh maybe seven pounds.  So that will be so nice compared to dealing with my old 11-or-so-pound suitcase and three-or-so pound carry-on.

The pair of sandals that I’ve been using as my main walking shoe, a sort of Crocs knock-off made by Skechers, for the last three or four years are starting to wear out and they don’t make that shoe anymore, so I needed to look for an alternative.  I’ve only had the shoes I ended up with for about six hours now, so I don’t know how they’re going to work out, yet.  I will be bringing the old sandals just in case.

I lost my favorite jacket at Roma Fiumicino airport last year, so I also hit a couple of Ross Dress for Less shops to see if they had any lightweight jackets that would do for this trip, but wasn’t able to find anything.  Last summer, I bought something from L.L. Bean that was similar to the jacket that I lost, but I wasn’t perfectly happy with the jacket, so I haven’t used it much.  I’ll take it anyhow and see what I think of it after living with it for a week.

Then I ended my errands with a new haircut.  I keep my hair short largely because it’s easy to care for.   I just wash it and towel-dry it and then run a brush through it and it looks pretty good.  Additionally, I need some height in my hair and the only time my hair has the proper lift when it’s long is when I am living in a place with high humidity.  South Texas is not that place.  So I keep it short.  Unlike this post.

Now I am working on my second load of laundry for the night.  I will be pretty much done with my laundry for today after this load, though I may throw another one in just to get a head start for tomorrow.  My suitcase is about half-packed, as is my carry-on.  I have five books on my phone (including two in Spanish) and am bringing the May 2014 and June 2015 National Geographic magazines in hopes that I can get a head start on those articles.

My Earliest Travel Memories

I have long said that I want to go “everywhere.”  I know how I made this decision.  Part of it was because of my parents’ National Geographic subscription. Every month for as long as I can remember we would get a new issue with beautiful full-color photographs of the world and, once I got old enough to read, fascinating descriptions of the places and the people who lived there. 

The other part was my parents’ landlords.  When they were first married, and prior to having had me, my parents rented an upstairs apartment in a couple’s house.  We would visit them every New Year’s Day and every year they would have photographs of the places that they had traveled.  Far from being bored, though, I loved it.  The wife was a musician and she would buy a small hand-held instrument at most of their destinations.  They were on windowsills and bookcases and on top of the television.  And every year I would think, “I’m going to go there someday.”

Unfortunately it took me until I was 11 to actually start checking places off of that list.  This is because for most of my childhood, travel meant driving from Chicago to Florida to visit my mom’s family.  We would stop at some destinations on the way, but most of the time was spent at my cousins’ house doing basically the same things I did at home, only with cousins.  We’d go to the supermarket and cook dinner at home, and visit my mom’s old high school friends, and sit around and watch television.

One thing that was differentiated home from the cousins’, though, was that my cousins’ house was just a block away from the Intracoastal Waterway.  My cousin’s son is only a year younger than I am and we would go down and watch the fiddler crabs and the boats.  This was in the 1970s, which was when the manatees were really in decline; my mom would tell me about seeing them when she was in high school and lived in that area, though.  The area of the Intracoastal Waterway that my cousins lived near had lots of mangrove plants when I was little.  I didn’t even realize that people lived on the other side of the mangroves until I was much older. 

My last visit to the Waterway was after my mom’s funeral.  My dad and son and I walked down there.  The mangroves were long gone and much of the land where my cousin and I used to watch the crabs had been paved over.  It was so different from how it had looked in my childhood and yet it still felt a bit like “home.”  Suddenly, my son, who was a kindergartener, said, “What’s that?” and pointed out into the water.   It took my dad and me a while to see what he was seeing.  It was a small pod of dolphins.  Probably there were two or three of them, it was hard to see at that distance.  And, of course, this was before everyone had a camera on their person at all times, so no one got a chance to photograph them.  Even if we had tried, it is likely that they would have been just a little blip on the surface of the water, since they were about 600 feet (just shy of 200 meters) away by my calculations.  I’ll never forget it, though.

(originally posted April 25, 2015)

My 2015 Vacation: Preparations

My son and I are out the door for our annual vacation in just about 72 hours.  We’re going to New York City with a day trip to Philadelphia.

Why New York?  When I was a kid I always wanted to visit New York and in 1988 when I was starting to date my now-ex, my folks finally agreed to go.  We had a fantastic time and I’ve always wanted to go back.

Fast-forward to my son and my 2013 vacation to North Carolina.  We rented a car and drove through the Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks.  I’m not a huge fan of driving at the best of times and driving in places that I am unfamiliar with makes me really nervous.  Nearly all of that vacation was driving in unfamiliar places.  As a result, we were both so stressed out from some of the driving that I told my son I needed a couple of years off from rental cars.  In 2014, we went to Rome and Naples and pretty much took public transportation or walked everywhere (we took a cab a few times as well).  Then, for 2015, I needed someplace else we could go where we wouldn’t need a rental car.  I asked a dear friend who grew up in the New York City area if she would recommend New York City as a vacation destination and she said of course she would.  So when the time came (about six months ago), we started planning for New York.

Now, in the next 72 hours I have to pack, clean my bathroom, clean my bedroom, do all of my laundry, and board my cat.  I don’t have to do much other cleaning because my dad will be home.  We invite him every year and every year he refuses to go.  We’re boarding the cat because my dad and the cat don’t get along and I will be more relaxed knowing that they’re out of each others’ hair (or fur, as the case may be).  I’ve gotten a start on those first two, and am about to start on the third.  I’ll do most of the fourth on Sunday and that last item has to wait until Monday.

National Geographic, January 2015

National Geographic has occasional theme issues.  This is one of them.  The theme for this issue is “Firsts.”

First Artists by Chip Walter (Photographs by Stephen Alvarez)

This article, just as the name implies, is about the beginnings of artistic expression in humans. We start out at one of the best known early artistic sites, Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, where artists starting at least 36,000 years ago made charcoal drawings on the walls. We then go to South Africa, where an even older form of artistic expression was found — pieces of ocher with geometric patterns carved into them dating back to at least 100,000 years ago.

There is no continuity to the artistic expression, however. It will flower in one place and then die out again only to resurface somewhere else. The development of art seems to track to times when there were more people, so the theory that Walter and, presumably those he’s spoken with, advances is that the art was a way for groups to communicate.

I wonder if it could be the other way around, though. Perhaps the default state of humanity is to be creative, but stresses on the population reduce that urge. Maybe the population increases were because times were relatively good, which allowed the natural creativity of our ancestors to show. We are, from all the research I have read, naturally wired to acquire a language, so it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to think that maybe we are wired to express ourselves artistically as well.

And despite their reputation as brutish, there may be some evidence that there was a creative urge for Neanderthal humans. Archaeologists have found items with holes drilled into them as if for jewelry in a cache with some tools in France.

Along with the articles are the usual stunning National Geographic photos, including pictures of the earliest pieces of art (including one that is described as a flying bird, but which looks awfully phallic to me), of the archaeological dig in South Africa, and of two young women covered in ochre. 

The First Year by Yudhijit Battacharjee (Photos by Lynn Johnson)

Technically this article should have probably been called The First Years because much of it relates to events in the second year of life and there are even some references to events beyond that point. 

The article, for the most part, recounts studies being done on the brain development of children in the first years of life. We begin with Hallam Hurt’s study of children who come from poor backgrounds which showed that the damage our culture associated with prenatal maternal use of crack actually reflected the situation of poor families in the United States. From this, we developed programs to encourage bonding and mental development during infancy and early childhood.

We also see a glimpse into some of the imaging studies being done of the brains of babies, including studies that show how language development works. 

There is also one study referenced that made me uncomfortable. Nicolae Ceausescu made birth control and abortion illegal, in service of increasing the population of Romania. It worked. It worked so well, that many families ended up abandoning their children, who then ended up in orphanages. The orphanages were understaffed and fifteen to twenty babies were generally taken care of by each worker, which meant that there was no time for the babies to be given any kind of personal attention, which harmed their brain development. A group of scientists saw that the children in these orphanages had irregular behavior patterns similar to those of children with severe autism. When the children’s brains were studied, it was shown that they had much lower levels of activity than would be expected from a child of that age. So they devised a study where half of the children would be put in foster home and half left in the orphanage. The brains of the fostered children under the age of two came to resemble those of children who had not been deprived, but the brain development of the children who remained in the orphanage remained abnormal.

Now, my own background is training as a medical librarian, so my frame of reference is clinical trials, but it is my understanding that if a treatment (which in this case is being put in a foster home) is shown to work (which it clearly did), the study is halted and all of the participants are given the treatment. To do otherwise would be unethical. Yet, there is no indication in this article whether the institutionalized children were put in foster homes in hopes of helping their brain development as had been done with the children put in foster care. I finally had to do some research on my own to find that homes were found for most of the children who had been left in the institution. Out of 68 institutionalized children in the original study, ten of the institutionalized children were still in the orphanage by the age of eight. So at least something was done for most of those children, but I’m still not happy about the ten who were still in the orphanage. On the good side, Romania now has a law forbidding placement of children younger than two in orphanages.

While the article itself is fairly dry, with lots of talk of studies and brain imaging, the “human element” comes from Johnson’s black-and-white photographs of families, many of them poor, taking the time to bond with their children, thus enriching their lives and helping their brains grow.

First City, by Robert Draper (Photographs by Robin Hammond)

In the case of this article, the word “first” is more a reference to rank rather than to chronology. The census for the country of Nigeria has trouble tabulating the population of Lagos, which has grown so fast that, at the moment it is somewhere between 13 and 18 million. The economy of Lagos is flourishing, as well. In the 21st century alone, consumer spending in Lagos has grown from 24.4 billion to 320.3 billion. The economy of Nigeria passed up the previous front-runner, South Africa, in 2012.

As with many National Geographic articles, this one features the stories of a number of Nigerians, from Onyekachi Chiagozie, an electrician who has big dreams, to Banke Meshida Lawal, a beautician with offices in Africa but who has representatives in other countries, including the United States, to Kola Karim, a multimillionaire who owns a conglomerate that employs more than 3,000 people.

The article also discusses the political climate of Nigeria, including the gap between the culture of Lagos and the upheaval of the rest of the country. Draper also discusses the corruption of the national government of Nigeria, which is a major exporter of petroleum but which doesn’t have enough gasoline for its citizens and which is unable to supply a steady level of electricity to any of its residents.

The photographs range from sitting portraits of residents to pictures of people going about their daily lives, both in the upscale and downscale areas of the city.

First Glimpse, by Timothy Ferris, Photographs by Robert Clark

This article is on cosmology, and cosmology really isn’t my thing. Somehow, the huge numbers of years and distance and things just serves to remind me that the clock is running and the universe will wind down someday. I mean, I’d be gone by then anyhow, unless an article I read a few years ago that said that time might stop any second turns out to be true, but I still find the thought, particularly that there is nothing we can do to stop it, or even slow it down, sort of distressing. 

That being said, I read this article, which opens with a quote that cosmologists are “Often in error but never in doubt.” That’s comforting. Well, not really, but it does kind of remind me of the Dunning-Krueger effect, which says that people who don’t know what they’re doing (“often in error”) will be more likely to be certain that they are experts (“never in doubt”) than one would expect. It is likely that they do know what they’re talking about, but obviously someone has some doubts. 

The article that follows talks about “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which are two forces that we cannot perceive but that seem to have some kind of effect on the universe. “Dark matter” seems to be pushing things closer together, while “dark energy” seems to be pushing them apart. Ferris also talks about the things that cosmologists are doing to measure what they perceive as being dark matter and dark energy, including a large sphere of lights pointing inward towards a pool of argon. The hope is that dark matter will pass through this device and make flashes of light. 

I did find out that dark matter is not some mysterious thing “out there,” though, which was kind of interesting. Apparently, the Earth is being bombarded by it constantly and since we cannot perceive it, it is likely to be be passing through our bodies and we just are not aware of it. 

First Americans, by Glenn Hodges

Now I’m back on familiar, and far more comfortable, territory. 

In 2007, Mexican divers found a cavern full of bones. The oldest one whose skull was intact enough to do a facial reconstruction on, was a teenaged girl who died somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. She was given the name Naia, after the Naiads of Greek mythology. Naia’s basic genetic structure is the same as that of current Native Americans, indicating that the current Native American population is descended from the people who were here all those centuries ago, but her facial structure is very different, with much coarser features. 

The bodies of Paleo-Americans that have been found so far seem to be very likely to have evidence of injuries from some kind of close-range battle. The standard explanation is that the men were fighting over women, and the women were victims of domestic abuse. While this is a possible explanation, and may even be the most likely explanation, I was a teenager several decades ago and remember a few physical fights among my female peers. As a result, I’m not going to completely discount the idea that perhaps the women fought among themselves just as the men seem to have done. 

The article also discusses the Friedkin site which is described as being in central Texas “about an hour north of Austin.” That’s still a very large area, so I did a little digging and discovered that it is in Salado, Texas, in Bell County. The Friedkin site may be the earliest settled place in North America. A large quantity of stone tools have been found on the site, some dating back 15,500 years. The quantity of tools seems to indicate to the archaeologists that a group of Paleo-Americans actually settled there for an extended period. 

Hodges mentions the Anzick site in Montana, as well, where the 12,600-year-old skeleton of a child. They were able to extract an entire genome from this child, the first time we had been able to do so. Fossilized human waste was also found in a cave in Oregon, which gives archaeologists a chance to see what people of the area ate and which indicates that the Paleo-Americans may have settled there for a while.

The photographs on the article were taken by various photographers including Timothy Archibald, Paul Nicklen, James Chatters, David Coventry, and Erika Larsen.

First Bird, written and photographed by Klaus Nigge

This is a short, six-paragraph, piece on the bald eagle accompanied by five beautiful photographs. In the article, Nigge discusses his time photographing the bald eagles of the Aleutian islands, who were so habituated to humans that they would let him walk right up to them to photograph them.

My Posting Schedule: A Plan

At my old LiveJournal, I tried to get into the habit of posting every other day, and I was pretty successful.  I finally got the hang of scheduling posts ahead of time (and as I write this, I still have three or four unposted posts queued up).  I have around 50 old posts that I want to move here, most of which are about National Geographic issues.  However, since I started working on that blog, I have added three other topics, My Travel Memories, Northern Illinois Destinations, and South Texas Destinations.

The pattern that I developed over time has been:

National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
Northern Illinois Destinations
National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
South Texas Destinations

That’s a lot of “National Geographic”s, I know, but I, will, by the time the dust settles, have about 167 years of magazines to get through and only around 40 years or so to do it in.  At the rate I am going, I’ll be lucky to get through 120 years of magazines in that time.

I will keep that pattern here, with one exception.

That exception is that I will add extra topics to the rotation for that year’s big summer trip.  For example, the week after I am posting this, I will be going on vacation to New York City with a side-trip to Philadelphia. When I return, I will temporarily add “New York City Destinations” and “Philadelphia Destinations” to the rotation until I run out of those topics.

I also occasionally make an extra post on a separate topic.  I like to do that on one of my days off, but if it occurs to me to do so on the day when my post runs, then so be it.

Since I already have so many National Geographic posts, I will combine them into entire issues for the time being.  So my first repost of a LiveJournal post will be the entirety of the January 2015 National Geographic issue, which I think I will put together and queue up right away.

Introductory Post. What Am I Doing Here?

Back in 2010, I started a book review blog on LiveJournal.  I ended up moving to a “content farm” platform to post the book reviews, and left that old LiveJournal to sit until late 2014.

I guess I’ll have to go back even farther than I’d planned in this explanation. In 2010, my dad bought me that DVD set that had the entire run of National Geographic issues from 1888 to 2008 on it.  I always tried to find the discipline to sit down and read them and also get caught up on the issues that have come out since then, but never quite could get around to it.

So, in January of 2015, I decided to use a sort of carrot-on-a-stick approach (since I’ll probably never finish this project) to motivate me.  I decided to start reading National Geographic issues and posting about them on that old blog.  Eventually that project turned into a travel blog, with National Geographic articles, reminiscences about my own travel (so far I’m still writing about travel from when I was ten and earlier, so the memories tend to be kind of vague at this point), and posts about travel destinations in both of the regions that I have called home — Northern Illinois and South Texas.   That travel blog has inspired me to start this blog, which will be a travel blog (and also include National Geographic writeups) from the very start.

In the interest of getting everything onto one blog, I will eventually start moving those earlier posts over here.  I haven’t decided if I will do it all at once, or if I will do it one post at a time.  I also haven’t decided if I will repost them with their original posting dates or with the date and time that I reposted them here.  It is likely at this point that I will repost then one at a time dated as of the dates that I post them here and say “originally written on . . .” at the top.

Also, my spell-checker doesn’t think that “repost” is a word.

In pursuit of this project (particularly to try to recapture as many of those early travel memories as possible), I asked my dad to see how many of our old vacation photo albums he could find and started scanning them in.  This has evolved into a major photo scanning project.  I ended up buying a new scanner because I was concerned that I might damage or burn out the scanner I bought for my son last Christmas.   As I write this, I have scanned in over 1,600 images and I’m probably about 1/3 of the way done with all of the photos that we have been able to find so far.  I know there are others to be found, two sets of pictures in particular.  My mom made photo albums of two of our earliest trips to Florida that  have yet to be found.  Also, my now-ex-husband and I took two honeymoons (a long weekend right after the wedding and a (if I recall correctly) 9-day trip to Florida once we had some vacation time saved up).  I have not yet been able to find the pictures we took on either of those trips.  Hopefully, as I get more confident (and find more photo albums), I will start to put my and my family’s pictures of destinations in my posts.