For those of you who visit my website often, I apologize for not having updated it over the past week or so; my husband and I took a trip to Atlantic City for some sun-fun. It's been a rainy summer here in Johnstown, after all.
Anyway, here are some photos from our trip (the least I can do to make up for my lack of posts is by sharing with you some of my photographs, right?):
This is the Absecon Lighthouse. Tallest lighthouse in the state of New Jersey. First lit in January 1857. Takes 228 to reach the top. And the view is so worth it:
By "worth it," I also mean "such a good work out."
Later that day, I ordered a drink at Starbucks and my name was translated as:
Keile. Interesting. Makes me wonder why my mom didn't go with that version.
So I apparently can't visit a beach without feeding the seagulls. I think they are so fun and deserving of all my leftover oyster crackers.
I also feel compelled to share a photo I took of an enormous sand sculpture located near the boardwalk. How these artists make these daring sculptures baffles me--I mean, look at the detail!
Two things I need to say about Harrah's:
1. Their "Do Not Disturb" signs are the best.
2. Their pool is heavenly.
Check it out:
Yeah. Awesome freaking pool.
So that's where I've been: hanging out in Atlantic City, winning money and losing money, feeding seagulls and relaxing on the beach, eating lots of good food and cold treats, and walking the seemingly endless boardwalk that never seems to get old to me.
Glad to be back--stay tuned for new posts and, as always, thanks for reading! :)
P.S. While away, I had two stories accepted by two excellent literary magazines: Crack the Spine and Oblong. I'll post the stories when they are published!
If you think that not recycling is acceptable, take a look at this video. Perhaps it will change your mind. That is all.
Apparently Pennsylvania has a "Top 10 Endangered Artifacts" list. Included on this list is some guy's wig (hey, I'm not a history buff) and a very old family Bible. But what I find to be most intriguing on the list are Drexel University's preserved butterfly specimens. The butterflies carry with them the title of America's oldest entomological specimens. So, my vote is going to them.
Voting simply means you're voting for your favorite artifact to win the People's Choice Award. If you're not broke, as I am, you can also choose to donate money to help your favorite artifact be preserved for years to come, helping future generations understand not only Pennsylvania's past, but also our country's.
If this "Top 10 Endangered Artifacts" talk intrigues you, click here to visit the website. If you can't donate, at least you can vote.
When I have children of my own, I know I'm going to want to share with them all the books and stories that have come to mean so much to me: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (and, frankly, every story ever written by Oscar Wilde), Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Cask of Amontillado and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Swim Team by Miranda July, Joyas Voladoras by Brian Doyle, Sea Oak by George Saunders, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and, of course, the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
A quick glance at the above list demonstrates that these books/stories wouldn't necessarily resonate with a toddler (I mean, unless he/she was a G-E-N-I-U-S!). Therefore, someday I'll need to be on the hunt for children's books--books with charming photos, books with a good message, books that would help get my little kiddo interested in the beauty of the written word.
Wouldn't you know: I think I've found my first one! It's called "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg" by D.B. Johnson. This author must, like me, be a huge Walden fan. "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg" is a gorgeously illustrated book that details how Henry the bear and his friend take two very different paths to get to the same destination. While his friend stops at just about every corner to earn money, Henry takes the Walden-esque approach by taking in all of his surroundings, enjoying the beauty of nature, and not letting money dangle like a carrot in front of his nose all the time. Today, Brainpickings.org highlights the incredible approach Johnson takes with his debut children's book. You can read the story here, and see photos from the book itself. Talk about cute!
*Cue applause for D.B. Johnson now*
Fellow mammals rejoice: one of our own is no longer suffering from a terrible case of mistaken identity.
How would you feel if someone always thought that you were, well, someone else? Poor olinguito; that's exactly what has happened to this species. And now a whole bunch of humans are suffering from embarrassment--or at least I am on their behalf because this animal is so.darn.cute. How can we humans redeem ourselves?
See? So.darn.cute. How did we not know that it was an olinguito? Based on its cuteness alone, we should have known for years. Seriously, I don't know how we are going to apologize to these guys. Should we track down all of 'em and give 'em a lifetime supply of fruit? Should we phone Bob Barker and tell him that we got our pets spayed and neutered, thank you very much, but what about the olinguito?!
If I could, I'd adopt an olinguito, and I would put a sign on my front porch. A big sign. A big, big sign that would read: An OLINGUITO named QUITO lives here! Say it with me now: OLINGUITO!
As for now, I see no adoption options for this furry creature, no matter how much I Google "super cute olinguito adoptions, pretty please!" And hey, you've got to admit that Quito would be a great name for my pet olinguito (just had to bold, underline and italicize the correct name in case any of them are reading!).
You say money is the root of all evil
But you, look at you--
Whose very feet are growing weeds
And you yourself a flower even two suns couldn't bloom.
You, who grow poison out of the pathetic mouth you call a garden.
You, who say money is the root of all evil--
Whose sinful hands cut down all the trees that bear my fruit.
It's you, you, the root of all evil is you.
Don't believe me? Ask the moon, who weeps every night for the sun that has to set upon you.
Lucky duck that I am, I got to spend Memorial Day weekend at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. I enrolled in the “Creating Pottery for Everyday Use” extended weekend workshop with Amanda Wolf (view her work at http://wolfsdenpottery.com/) and arrived to campus Friday evening.
I was assigned to Cabin #1. This cabin became my humble abode for the next three nights and four days:
The first thing I noticed about my cabin’s interior was the smell. To my delight, it smelled exactly like the clubhouse in my parents’ backyard that my dad built for my sister and me when we were little! It was practically an adult-sized, squarer version of our triangular clubhouse; for that reason alone, I felt quite comfortable . . .
. . . but maybe not so comfortable at night. The first night was the worst. I slept cocoon-like in a sleeping bag. And when I say cocoon-like, I mean it. I was wrapped up as tight as possible in that thing, trying my best to retain all my body heat so I could get some sleep. Night number two was probably the warmest, and night number three was slightly colder than I had anticipated. Alas, staying in the cabin made me appreciate my own warm bed at home. And even though I had the option to upgrade to a dorm, I’m glad I didn’t. It was a true summer camp-esque experience (I even decided to forego the meal plan so I could eat canned foods and packaged snacks!).
When I walked to the pottery studio (conveniently located about 30 steps away from my cabin) on Friday evening, I was introduced to Amanda and my two fellow students, Cindy and her daughter, Taylor. We spent the evening making clay stamps and sprigs for our pottery. Then back to my little cabin I retreated. The next morning would be my first full day at the wheel.
Our day started at 9 a.m. We learned how to wedge the porcelain clay with which we were working. The next step was to center it on the wheel. I experienced problems with centering when I took my first pottery class at my workplace back in March. Fortunately, centering came quite easy to me at Touchstone. “Pulling,” however, didn’t.
Pulling the clay basically involves lifting it up and allowing it to take shape. Silly me didn’t think to cut her crazy-long fingernails, so I couldn’t grab the clay the way I needed to in order to master the technique.
“Your nails are beautiful, but they gotta go,” Amanda said.
A few minutes later, she emerged from the glaze room with a pair of scissors. I refused. I mean, I can “go grunge,” but not that grunge. Haha. So I learned to deal with my long fingernails getting in the way (I did cut them as soon as I got home, though!) and stayed focused on the wet clay circling around in my hands.
Pottery, my friends, isn’t easy. You have to wedge the clay, center it, pull it, shape it, trim it, bisque it, decorate it, glaze it, and fire it again. It takes dedication, patience, and skill. The process itself is a long one, and it’s risky, too. You can’t get attached to a piece because it might not survive one of the many stages (I lost three mugs during the trimming stage . . . sigh). When I encountered a hiccup in the process (there were many, many times when I pulled too hard and completely ruined the piece), I wedged a new piece of clay and started over again. Despite being the kind of person who gets frustrated and discouraged quite easily, I was determined to master the pottery wheel. Luckily, our awesome studio assistant (shout out to Eric!) and two talented potters (hey, Lee and Bridget!) were kind enough to let me continue to work after our allotted open studio hours. On Saturday evening, I stayed in the studio until about 10:30 p.m., throwing and throwing and throwing until I emerged with a little jar that, I decided, I would give to my boyfriend. Amanda was also kind enough to stay with me for awhile, offering me advice and telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
Cursive, by the way, got it right: "Art is Hard."
It was dark by the time I left the studio, and I was happy to know that the next morning I would wake up and get to do it all over again.
Here’s a photo of me late Saturday night--sticky clay hands and all!
I admired our schedule: working for a few hours, taking a small lunch break, working a few more hours, taking a supper break, and then working again until almost dark. I imagined myself hanging out with Henry David Thoreau (okay, so I should also admit that my cabin made me think of “Walden”), enjoying that type of technology-less, connected-to-nature, working-hard-all-day way of life.
Aside from making some bowls from molds that Amanda provided for us, I spent a majority of my Sunday on the wheel. I was comfortable there. Eager to learn more. Appreciative of the opportunity to have a teacher who kindly pointed out the progress I was making. So, by Sunday afternoon, I finally understood how to pull the clay. To get my clay to take shape. Gracefully.
Sunday was also the perfect day for a walk on Meditation Trail. With my notebook in hand, I walked into the woods, crossed over the creek, and sat on a rock and wrote. Here’s a photo of me enjoying that alone time:
The entire Touchstone campus is gorgeous. It’s nestled in the boondocks, where cell phone service is limited and artists gather to create art with like-minded artists. Even though I was only there for four days, it felt as if I became part of an artist’s colony. The people there talked art, made art, celebrated art. I loved it.
We spent Monday morning and afternoon decorating our pottery, adding handles to our mugs, and letting our work dry so that we could take it home. By the time check-out time rolled around, I didn't want to leave. I made some new friends. I wanted to jump back on the pottery wheel. I discovered that not only could I use my hands to write, but also to bring a lump of clay to life.
I ended up leaving Touchstone with 12 finished pieces (all of which have yet to be bisque fired, glazed, and then fired again). I created mostly mugs, as you can see:
I have a long way to go when it comes to reaching Amanda’s skill level . . . a longggggggggg way . . . but I’m grateful that she was gracious enough to teach us what she knows. She offered me the perfect mix of constructive criticism and praise; now I have the confidence to keep learning, to keep creating. This means I need to get my own pottery wheel!
From my cabin to Meditation Trail to the clay studio, my first experience at Touchstone certainly won’t be my last!
For more info: http://touchstonecrafts.org/
While researching tea during my lunch break earlier this afternoon, I came across the term "monkey-picked." Ladies and gentlemen, you can't just come across a term like that without researching it further.
Sidenote: There is an ADORABLE monkey picture coming your way very soon.
Here is what I learned: the term is commonly used to define high quality tea. When a tea company claims that they are selling you "monkey-picked" tea, you can bet that you are purchasing the best of the best tea leaves.
But the origin of the term . . . here is where the real monkeys enter the picture. Harvesting tea leaves was no easy task, especially once the demand for tea increased. That's when, apparently, monkeys became quite useful.
Various legends surround monkey-picking; one legend states that Buddhist monks trained monkeys to pick the leaves from tea trees that they deemed inaccessible. Another legend claims that the monks would throw stones at the monkeys in an effort to make them fall to the ground, thus breaking the branches containing the best of the best tea leaves on their way. What I consider the funniest legend--and perhaps the easiest to picture--involves villagers taunting the monkeys so much that the monkeys would get mad and retaliate by throwing handfuls of tea leaves at them.
Some people say that these legends are all bogus, but you know what? I wouldn't be mad if this little guy picked my tea leaves by hand. I guess the only problem would be trying to find a way to tip him.
Yesterday my boyfriend and I traveled the whole way to Addison, Pa. to purchase a bike from a lady who, I'm convinced, knew that I wanted her bike. It was quite ironic, after all, that when my "I Want a Bicycle" column was published in last week's Our Town, she put an ad in the Daily American classifieds stating that she had a 26" turquoise women's bike for sale.
Anyway, we got to her house and I took a little test run on the bicycle in a church parking lot nearby. It felt so good to be back on a bicycle again. And I knew that this was the one I wanted. It was blue. And it was cheap.
I paid her $50 and Eric loaded the bike atop his car. We drove straight to Confluence, unloaded our bikes, and pedaled our way to the start of Rails to Trails.
"Do you think you can do 20-some miles?" he asked. "'Cause we could always just go halfway and then turn around."
"Twenty-some miles," I answered. "Go big or go home, right?"
Of course I could do 20-some miles. It was my first time on Rails to Trails and I wanted the full experience. It was a beautiful day for biking and I needed the exercise. Plus, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
Thankfully, Rails to Trails is entirely flat. There are no steep inclines. Just a casual, comfortable riding trail that is perfect for bikers of all ages. Eric explained--and for some reason I never put two and two together--that the trails used to be train tracks, hence the name "Rails to Trails."
"So you can imagine the ghosts of trains as you ride your bike," he said.
I thought that was neat.
Turns out I didn't really end up thinking about trains. Rather, I spent the next ten miles thinking about how awesome it felt to finally own a bike. I thought about my family, my friends, what's to come with the summer sun. I thought about the poems I want to write, the essays I need to compose, the endless ideas for plays that have settled in my brain and are collecting dust (sad face). I realized that biking was not only a physical exercise, but also a mental exercise. I was burning calories while creating to-do lists and plotlines.
I said hello to every biker I passed.
"Do you say hello to everybody?" Eric asked, smiling.
"Of course," I said. "I think we should say hello to everyone. It's just part of keeping up with humanity . . . I mean . . . keeping humanity, well, humane."
About an hour into our ride, we stopped near a little resting place that led to beach area and parked our bikes in the woods. While we were passing an apple back and forth near the shoreline, we heard a scary sound. A gunshot.
"Ummm, are you allowed to shoot guns around here?" I asked.
"Are you scared?" I asked. "'Cause I am."
After we finished our apple, we walked up the hill toward our bikes.
Eric's bike was still resting against a tree. Mine was on the ground. Someone shot my bike!
I lifted it off the ground.
"That wasn't a gunshot," Eric said. "That was the sound of your tire exploding."
My first time on Rails to Trails and I had a flat tire. Ugh. I was so bummed.
"Well, Confluence is ten miles that way, which means we're closer to Ohiopyle," he said.
"Let's just walk back to Confluence."
"That'll take approximately four hours."
"Fine. Then let's ask someone how far Ohiopyle is."
We walked up to a brother and sister pair lounging on a picnic table.
"Excuse me. Hi. How far is Ohiopyle?" I asked.
"About three miles that way," the lady said, pointing her finger toward the trail.
"Thanks," I said.
We spent the next mile walking along the trail, leading our bikes like miniature ponies.
"Do you want to try to get on my bike?" Eric asked.
That plan turned out to be a disaster. Imagine me getting on Eric's bike while he pedaled AND held onto my injured Roadmaster's right handlebar. Yeah. That was not happening.
"This isn't a three-ring circus," I said.
So we quickly abandoned that plan and continued to walk. We asked passersby if they had a bicycle pump, but no one did. Go figure.
An older couple passed us and asked why we weren't biking the trail.
"Flat tire," I said, quite flatly.
"Try riding on it," the man said. "Just go slow."
I jumped back on the bike and pedaled it about two miles down the trail. And here's what I learned during that little experiment: it's really hard to pedal a bike with a flat tire. Really hard. A challenge.
Eventually Eric and I decided to switch bikes because I was going approximately 0 m.p.h. and I knew that he would be a trooper and up the ante by at least 2 m.p.h. He's athletic like that, whereas I was sweating and frustrated and embarrassed.
We made it to Ohiopyle and found the bicycle repair shop. The teenager at the counter said that he could replace the innertube, but my rim was crooked and in desperate need of repair.
"It'll be $5 for the innertube and $5 for the service," he said.
"And that'll get us back to Conflluence?" Eric asked.
"Yeah," he said.
"That'd be great, then," I said. "How much time do you need?"
"Half an hour."
"Cool. See you soon."
Aside from music, here are four things that can make me feel better: ice cream, cookies, cake, and chocolate. Find a way to combine two or more of them and that's even better.
We went to the little ice cream shop and I ordered one scoop of Extreme Brownie Batter and one scoop of Oatmeal Cookie Extravaganza--two flavors I had never tried, but sounded delicious enough to put a big smile on my face.
After we ate our ice cream in the warm sunlight, we went back to retrieve my bike. It was good as new--or as good as it could be. Whatever. As long as I could get back on the trail, all was well.
"Do you still like your new bike?" Eric asked about a mile into our journey back to Confluence.
"I do," I said. "It may need a little tune-up, you know, but I'm just happy to own a bike."
And I was so happy to be alive.
With the wind against our faces, and at times against our backs, we pedaled the 12 miles back to Confluence. And it felt so good--the wind in my face, in my hair, in my pupils, in my soul. Fresh air. Tall trees. Beautiful flowers. As much as I sometimes complain about living in this area, Rails to Trails makes me feel grateful to live in this part of Pennsylvania. It's postcard worthy.
Twenty-four miles and one flat tire later, I was grateful for the experience. I did it. We did it. And even though my legs felt like Jell-O and my butt was sore, I felt as if I could have kept pedaling into the sunset.
"That was pretty sweet," Eric said after preparing our bikes for the long drive home.
"It was," I said.
"It was kind of like life, you know? Some joys, some struggles, some monotony . . . some people come, some people go . . . yeah, a bike ride is a lot like life."
On our way home, I rolled down my window, watched the shadows of our bikes drift along the road, and let the wind tangle my hair.
I once read a newspaper article about a couple who hiked the entire Appalachian trail (the article can be accessed below) and became intrigued by the thought of completing it myself.
I could picture myself quitting my job, finding a hiking partner, and taking on that very challenge. But this challenge? This challenge? No way, Jose.
Did you look at that link? If you didn’t, you should stop messin’ around and give your eyeballs a little thrill. Besides, you kinda have to look at it before reading the rest of this post.
(I’ll pause for a moment, just in case you need to look at it for really real reals or if you want to look at it again.)
Okay. So. You looked at the link. Good. Thank you.
Apparently this trek is considered the most dangerous in the world. You have to climb steep trails, stairs, ladders . . . and if you fall, you’re dead. The reward—if indeed you survive the journey—is a magnificent view of the five peaks of Mount Hua.
Awesome, right? Hence the reason I turned my computer screen toward my co-worker’s desk this morning and told her to have a look at some of the photos.
“That’s all fine and dandy,” she said, “but what the hell happens when you get there? How do you get back? Helicopter?”
Crap. I hadn’t thought about that. I just thought that if you made it, well, hooray for you! But if you go up, you’ve gotta come back down . . . oh man!
Oh man, oh man, oh man. God bless those who have made it. What an incredible feat. What reliable feet.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .