Kilimanjaro: A Mystic Welcome

Kili National Park
No matter what route you decide take when climbing Kilimanjaro, your trek starts here. You (or your guide) have to register and obtain park permits at the Kilimanjaro National Park’s main gate. The fog when we arrived created a bit of a mystic pre-trek feeling. Photo circa: March 2015.

Salem: Beyond the Witches

Salem, Massachusetts is a mid-size town along coastal New England. It’s famous for a tiny 17th Century misunderstanding that resulted in the stoning, burning and murder of 20 residents. No big deal, right? If you grew up in MA/NH/ME area of New England chances are you spent an entire month in school studying this NBD, also known as the Salem Witch Trials.

In summary, the reality of post-war, puritan New England set in with this deeply religious community. In addition, controversy bubbled up behind the ordaining of Reverend Samuel Parris. Locals disliked his ways and greed.

In 1692, Rev. Parris’ daughter and niece began having “fits.”  (fits: screaming, throwing things, uttering weird sounds and contorting their bodies in strange, unusual positions.) Presumably at a loss, a local physician blamed … THE SUPERNATURAL!

Under pressure from local magistrates, the girls blamed three women for afflicting them: Tituba, the Parris’ slave, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. The woman were brought to trial, two proclaiming their innocence, the salve confessing “the devil came and bid me to do it.” The spark that would ignite paranoia was lit and the rest is history. (For the record, I remembered about 60% of the above from school. I had to look the rest up. Yet again, thank goodness for the internet.)

By today’s standards, the Witch Trials resemble Tina Fey’s biting (and accurate) Mean Girls but on steroids. But for whatever reason, people love the story and the idea that Salem is home to a lot of witches and witchcraft. They love it so much that the other “gems” of Salem, in my opinion, get overlooked.

What exactly are these gems? Thank you for asking…

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I loved the “pop” the turquoise door makes against the black frame of this house. It’s so un-colonial while pretending it is.
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The Flying Saucer pizza has great pizza and craft beer. Have no fear, Trekkies are welcome and they have memorabilia that will appeal to you as well.
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Harrison’s Comics & Pop Culture is *the* place for relics of days gone by (like this one) as well as TONS of Walking Dead and other more current stuff.
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Literary wonks will know interested to know this is The House of Seven Gables, that inspired Nathaniel Hawethorne to write the novel. (It’s also the oldest wooden mansion in New England.)

Other Salem gems not photographed but worth your time: Gulu-Gulu Cafe for lunch, Sea Level Oyster Bar (upstairs) for drinks and Captain Dusty’s Homemade Ice Cream for your sweet tooth.

If you are in New England, don’t wait until Halloween to visit this lovely community. It’s a great day trip from Boston (and not nearly as crowded) and Portsmouth, NH.

For visitors with a car, Salem is located off I-95 in Massachusetts. Parking was pretty easy since we were visiting a friend. Without that perk, you may want to Google “parking in Salem” to find a lot closest to your destination. Plan to pay $10-$15 for a day. You can also access Salem via MBTA Train.

Misc. Musings Vol 2: On Processing & Regrouping

“Sometimes a blog in silence is the sign of a life being lived to the fullest. An update on what I’ve been up to.” -Carol Cain. I saw this quote Monday and fell madly in love. On Tuesday, I was able to actually read the post that followed it –Carol Cain: Family is Everything– and fell even more in love. Everyone should read this, or at least the first few paragraphs. Whatever your ‘everything’ is, be mindful to make time for it.

Right now I’m musing over…

I’m musing over completion (okay, I know technically you can’t muse over that, cut me some slack). In June, I had two major but unrelated events come to a close. I’ve been working for the past year on a project that culminated in writing 50,000 words of web copy. Like any client assignment the process was adventurous, arduous, fun, frightening, grueling and groovy. For all of those mixed emotions, it’s done and I am thrilled. It took the life out of me.

A week before this content was due, I found out I would need to appear in Washington DC’s Superior Court. No, I’m not in trouble. I had to give a statement about an incident that happened to me last summer.Turns out that getting up in front of an offender, telling a judge how an incident changed your life (and, for the record, they don’t mean for the better) is emotionally draining. And I mean that in every possible interpretation.

After all this, I found myself exhausted and needing to disengage from reality. This may shock you, but I don’t “put it all out there” they way other writers do. I’m also not a “fake-booker” (the practice of writing how great things are when they actually suck). This break was me processing, recharging and taking care of myself. Which, at its core is part of Carol’s message. I think that’s why her quote and story resonate so strongly with me.

Travel. I’m so happy to have shared initial impressions and excursions in Moshi, Tanzania. I had hoped to do some guest writing about my actual climb up Kilimanjaro but that fell through. So, in the coming weeks I’ll be share so much more about this African Experience. I’ve also been busy knocking stuff off my Summer Bucket list, creating adventures that are more locally based.

Auntie Adventures. Holy crap – My oldest niece is a GRADUATE! It feels so strange not to call her a kid, but this young woman is whip smart and heading off to University in the fall. I’m so proud of her.

Fitness & Lifestyle. No surprise, in “processing and regrouping” it’s been a struggle to stay active. The heat and humidity in Washington DC also make rigorous exercise tough with asthma. But, I’ve picked out my first century ride – The Seagull Century this fall. I’m super excited and ready to kick training into high-gear.

On my Bookshelf. Funny, when I need to process and regroup, I find myself reading less and watching more television. I used to be a huge fan of BBC America’s Orphan Black. Season three ended well but up until the last two episodes, I really feared it jumped the shark. Or they wrote themselves into a corner. I don’t think I’m the target audience but Grace & Frankie, on Netflix, is a great program. It’s a light-hearted, but really insightful, look at what happens when two men come out to their wives. I won’t spoil the plot in case you are interested. I’m also counting down the days to Sharknado 3. Yeah, I admit it. It’s so bad you can’t not watch it.

I’m still working on The Rosie Project as well as The Art of Fielding. The latter has been a slow start but the story is picking up steam.

What are you musing over?

Approaching the Sun Temple of Ramsis II

Stamps on my Passport
When people talk about visiting Egypt, I usually hear about the Pyramids of Giza. But dang, if Abu Simbel doesn’t take your breathe away you aren’t living. Photo taken September, 2002

Diving into Local History: USS Albacore

If you’ve ever wondered if you are claustrophobic, I’ve got a great way for you to find out. Visit the U.S.S. Albacore submarine in Portsmouth, NH.

The Albacore
The Albacore

I don’t recall having issues with closed spaces as a child. I know that over the past decade, a no-big-deal MRI resulted in full on panic attack. I was fine. And then the physician asked how I was doing. Right on que, my heart started racing. I got hot, then I got cold. My heart kept pounding. Deep breaths were completely useless. Then I was like, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE.” That test was done.

But this was all a distant memory when Mr. Os announced he wanted to visit the Albacore during a recent trip to New England. In the 20+ years growing up in the area, I’d never actually done this and happily agreed to a mini-adventure.

There are a few things you should know about visiting the submarine, if you aren’t from the Portsmouth/Seacoast area. The Albacore is a submarine with significant historical significance for the United States and our Navy. From the USS Albacore’s website:

“Albacore served as a sea-going test platform from 1953 to 1972. Albacore’s teardrop-shaped hull was the prototype for the Navy’s nuclear powered submarine force and was the first boat built specifically to operate underwater. Prior to Albacore, submarines had been characterized as surface vessels that could submerge.”

And, it’s also the stuff of (local) legends. You see, and the park kinda glosses over this, the Albacore wasn’t actually in New Hampshire when a local elected official came up with the idea of a park. As I recall it was years of negotiating, bickering and fund raising before the sub was moved to the area. Even moving the Albacore to it’s permanent home wasn’t easy. After months of planning, a quick change in tides resulted in the sub being grounded in the Piscataqua River for several hours.

This happened pre-Internet, making it tough to search out the nitty-gritty gossip in today’s world. (Hint: pay close attention to the briefing introductory video before touring the submarine. A few bits about this are buried in the piece.)

A tour of the Albacore is self-guided. Outside the welcome center, you’ll see standing grey boxes with red buttons offering commentary about where you are and quotes from now retired crew. Inside the sub, look for large red buttons.

These are the audio boxes outside of the submarine. Personally, I thought they were set up backwards. Don't you want people on the footpath, not on the grass?
These are the audio boxes outside of the submarine. Personally, I thought they were set up backwards. Don’t you want people on the footpath, not on the grass?

Visitors enter the sub in the forward area, right next to the crew’s bunk beds. I stepped in and looked around. Then Mr Os stepped in. And, again right as he was opening his mouth to ask how I was feeling, my heart starting racing and my vision started to shrink. I shoved him onto a bunk bed, declaring “I gotta get outta here.”

You might be claustrophobic if looking at these offices quarters is making you queasy.
You might be claustrophobic if looking at these officers quarters is making you queasy.

Thankfully, I didn’t pass out or flip my noodle completely. The entire tour, for me, was one heart-pounding step after another. I could barely look at the shower facilities because they were so tiny and cramped. To think service men and women live like this for days on end. Wow, I salute you.

As for me, I've never been so happy to see an exit sign. Seriously.
As for me, I’ve never been so happy to see an exit sign. Seriously.

I enjoyed our little excursion, but overall, I found the submarine under-whelming. Given that my hometown is Washington DC, my family immediately labeled me a museum snob. I’m not sure I agree but they are entitled to their opinion.

Here a few things about the Albacore that bummed me out.

1. The audio tour, part one. I’m normally a fan of audio tours. I enjoyed the crew member commentary but it was almost always inconsistent with what we were looking at. I’d like to see the Albacore Park reedit or redo the audio component of the tour so the commentary aligns better with the tour. The crewman’s voices and stories are history, I really felt the tour doesn’t do enough with these testimonials. Better yet, reach out to the crewman and do a StoryCorp.

2. The audio tour, part two. Outside the submarine, the audio element of the tour is housed in grey steel boxes. The audio feed faces away from guests so they have to stand on the grass to hear the commentary. This disrupts foot traffic and is also killing your grass.

3. Non personalized tours. The volunteers we encountered were ridiculously welcoming. I don’t understand why they are only manning the museum and check-in. I’d like to see them giving a once/daily tour. As veterans, their first hand perspective is invaluable. In fact, as this Greatest Generation passes on, it’s literally an opportunity that is dying right before your eyes.

4. Introductory video. I like the introductory video but it’s too long to hold visitors attention. I’d like to see this edited into smaller segments so people will be more likely to listen to it. In an ideal world, tour guides (see above) could stream short segments while giving once daily tours.

If you are history buff, you’ll enjoy visiting the Albacore. Like I said the staff at the entrance is retired Navy and incredibly welcoming. Even if you read everything on the submarine, it’s a brief tour. But all in all, I’d like to see the Park’s Staff do some fund raising to up their game.

The 2015 Summer Bucket List

Summer! Whether you define summer as that time between Memorial Day and Labor Day (rejoice! You can wear white without worrying if you are breaking a fashion rule), or if you follow the Farmers Almanac more traditional first day of Summer (June 21st: thank goodness I for the extra time to mentally prepare), we can agree the season is here.

Summer in the US is synonymous with barbecue and vacations (or staycations). Because I march to my own beat, for me, Summer means the return of my the Summer Bucket List.

Inspired by Carla Birnberg, I made my first summer bucket list last year. It was so much fun, I decided it will be my new “thing.” Here are a few highlights from my inaugural list.

2014 Bucket List Highlights
2014 Bucket List Highlights (from the bottom left, up and around): Pottsville, PA road trip, Ride in 2nd Trek Across Maine, Photography Tour of Central Park, Kayaking on the Potomac River, a National’s game and Visiting the re-opened Washington Monument.

This year’s list is not as extensive as my first go-around. I have a lot of work lined up and don’t want to be disappointed about not getting everything done. I’m already dealing with one failure, why set myself up for another?

But really, the length of the list is not what matters. The list is a collection of things and mini-adventures I want to have. Writing them down and sharing them becomes a device for making it happen. I mean, let’s be real. How many times have you said you wanted to do something and months, even years later, it still wasn’t done. Yeah, I thought so. I’m guilty too.

Instead of lolling around wasting beautiful days, my Summer Bucket List helps me prioritize my weekends, days off and most importantly gets me out enjoying life and all that the greater Washington DC area has to offer. Without further ado, here is the 2015 Summer Bucket List.


What do you think of my summer tradition? Would you make a Summer Bucket List?