Aaaaand Back

May 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Man, the first day back to work after a vacation is always a drag.  It doesn’t help when your vacation consists of great quality time with family you only see once (maybe twice) a year, lounging by a pool with sweet tea in hand, exploring a haunted antebellum home and traipsing through the French Quarter with two of you favorite people.  All in all, the entire vacation was a success and since Scott managed to hold his own on both his first plane ride and his first encounter with my father, I couldn’t have come home happier.  Unless I didn’t have to come home at all, that is.

I did not take this but we shall pretend I did.

Like most people, I could use a vacation from my vacation.  Thankfully I had yesterday off to recuperate but having to clean the apartment, do laundry, make a Target run and go to a mammogram appointment to get my boob completely squished and squashed (just routine, no worries) before trying to make a healthy dinner that would override the week of fried food and pizza I’d been consuming took a lot out of me.  It’s a hard knock life for a vegetarian in the deep South, that’s for sure.  I managed to accomplish everything on my list but my nap and I’m definitely feeling that today.  Luckily, the work week is more than half way over and I can get in some much needed bonding time with my couch this weekend.

As I mentioned, the trip went better than I could have hoped (well, except for the old man in front of us on the flight back who let out some of the most disgusting-smelling farts known to man…seriously, the flight attendant ended up spraying something as she was gagging down the aisle) and I miss my southern family already.  In a strange twist, the temperature upon returning to Chicago was just as warm and humid as it was when we left New Orleans so it was almost like we never left.  Almost.  Arriving in an apartment that was roughly 95 degrees at 11:30 pm Monday night after navigating trains and planes (no automobiles) wasn’t exactly fun but it did make me all the more thankful for central AC.  And ice cream.  And for the fact that our long-haired cat hadn’t melted through the floor.

More trip highlights to come, just as soon as I can recuperate a bit more.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane!

May 23, 2012 at 12:17 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Today at 5pm CST, I begin my vacation.  I do not have to be back at work until next Wednesday (thank you, Memorial Day!) and this time tomorrow I’ll be arriving at my grandparent’s house in good old Louisiana.  I’m taking Scott with me and seeing as how he’s never been on a plane before (ever), this will be quite the experience.  Especially since the plane we’ll board after our layover has exactly three seats in each aisle and is too tiny to store anything in the nonexistent overhead bins.  I’ve got his sleeping pills ready, just in case.

Away we go!

Typically I only get this far south on Thanksgiving and I’m only able to visit  my family (aunt, uncles and cousins) down there once a year.  However, since I’ll be in over a long weekend, they’re all joining us at Grandma’s house to meet and greet the boyfriend and enjoy some fun in the sun (and pool).  I’m really excited to see everyone and also excited for the night we’ll be spending in the French Quarter – even though I’ve been down there many times it never gets old.

Luckily, I’m feeling better and am only mildly snotty compared to what I’ve been so far this week.  Though my mom would say that I’m mildly snotty all the time.

Yeah I’m sorry this post is kind of lame but to be honest I’m having a hard time concentrating with this vacation looming so close I can almost taste it.  Then I’ll squeeze in a quick work out, pack my bags and set my alarm for 3:30 tomorrow morning so we can catch our flight.

Louisiana, here we come!  And Sissy, I wish you were coming with us!

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Glad That’s Over

May 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Well NATO came and went and the city of Chicago still stands.  Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with too much of anything and other than seeing way more cops around than usual, my schedule wasn’t really disturbed.  Which was nice, because after I spent the weekend running errands for my aunt/helping to prep my cousin’s graduation party/eating/drinking/generally being merry, I didn’t have the will power or the patience to put up with a bunch of people in my way.

Ahhh

Apparently my busy weekend also compromised my immune system, as I haven’t been feeling all that swell since I woke up yesterday morning.  You know that feeling when you swallow and it’s as if your throat is made of razor blades?  Yup, definitely had that.  My ears are kind of plugged as well but I’ve been on a steady diet of tea, Vitamin C and soup so hopefully I can knock whatever this is completely out before it gets the better of me.  Scott and I leave for Louisiana on Thursday so I definitely want to be feeling better by then.  I’m actually slightly better today (though that could be from the cold medicine I downed a couple of hours ago) and I plan on getting major rest tonight so hopefully that’ll be that.

It doesn’t help that I’m re-reading The Stand right now.  For those of you not in the know, this is a Steven King book that begins with a crazy, secretly government-created flu-like virus that hits the general public and begins killing faster than the Bubonic Plague.  Symptoms begin with sneezing, coughing and lots of snot, which is exactly what I’ve currently got.  I know that it’s just a book and all but still…my timing could’ve been better.

Now to drink some more tea and float in my medicine induced fog…

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NATO’d Out

May 18, 2012 at 11:59 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

So the North American Treaty Organization is having their summit in Chicago this weekend, the same weekend that the Cubs and the Sox have their annual cross-town classic.  I am so, so glad to be catching a bus to Indiana at 6pm today but unfortunately that doesn’t mean I get to entirely escape the madness.

Eek

The NATO summit is a pretty big deal as all of the leaders in North America will be gathering for meetings on Sunday and Monday.  There are hoards of protesters descending on the city and while I absolutely support the right to protest and I have empathy for what they’re protesting about, I’m not totally thrilled that any of this is taking place in the city in which I live and work.  Protesters are upset over a litany of complaints and chief among them is the fact that NATO is backing many foreign wars where we’re spending billions of dollars while cities in America are in dire need of some of that cash flow.  Education for many in the States is abysmal, infrastructure is aged and crumbling, citizen debt is higher than it ever has been and unemployment is right along there with it, so these are definitely valid concerns.  However, there is a city-wide fear that the protesters will turn ugly and that everyone needs to watch their backs.  I know many people who are off of work both today and on Monday and many more who will be working from home.  My train was almost empty this morning and Metra commuter trains won’t be allowing anyone aboard who’s carrying any sort of purse, backpack or liquid.  We’ve all been advised not to wear business clothes on Monday, as it could make us more susceptible to attacks.  All of the museums along Museum Campus will be closed, as will major roads and part of the highway.  Security is crazy and there are extra patrols all over the city, both in the air and on the ground.  I even read that Milwaukee has a contingency plan in case the entire city has to be evacuated (a very long shot, to be fair).  I’m not excited about working in the Sears Willis Tower during all of this but I don’t have much of a choice, even though many of the higher-ups here will be out until Tuesday (apparently one of the partners here doesn’t want her car to get messed up – to hell with her employees).  Must be nice.

I’ve heard reports of protesters dressed as clowns and hurling pies and balloons full of urine and feces on police officers (yeah WTF), which is just nuts.  I’m hoping that most people remain peaceful and remember that the citizens of Chicago had no say over this summit and we’re just trying to pay our bills but I can tell you right now if I get hit with a pie or crap-filled balloon, I will not be working on Monday.  The whole thing is kind of weird to watch from 51 floors up in the sky and while part of me thinks it would be exciting and informative to be down on the ground where the action is, I do have that pesky job that keeps me chained to my desk.  And since I’ve gotten used to a roof over my head and food in my belly, I think I’ll stay here until my day is done.

Which doesn’t mean I won’t be following everything from afar.  And luckily, at least for a little while, that means I’ll be watching from the comfort of my aunt’s couch in Indiana.  Now if I can just make it to the bus stop without getting something thrown at me I’ll be all set!

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Mellow Yellow

May 16, 2012 at 11:27 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Yellow has always been my favorite color (though there was brief time in middle school where I said it was green but I think I was just trying to be cool and I always felt a little guilty towards yellow when I said it).  I attribute this to the yellow blanket I was brought home from the hospital in, the same yellow blanket that I still sleep with every night.  Yes, really.  Anyway, yellow apparently isn’t a very common favorite color and I’ve probably only ever met 2 or 3 people who’ve agreed with me that it’s the most pleasing to the eyes.  I don’t really wear it or use it to decorate (and I think the soda Mello Yellow takes like cat urine…or what I imagine cat urine would taste like) but the color itself makes me happy in ways I can’t quite explain.  So you can imagine the smile on my face when I sat down on this train car one day last week:

Please ignore the girl in the right hand corner who is clearly perplexed by my photo taking.

Thank you, Tropicana.  This picture doesn’t fully do the train car justice but every surface, both inside and out, was bright yellow.  Sure, it was an overly blatant marketing scheme but it still brightened up my day (haha see what I did there?) and so I didn’t mind it one bit.  I’ve seen these random one or two fully yellow cars on the tracks for a month or so now but hadn’t managed to catch one until last week.  It’s a little over the top but as far as brand recognition goes it does the trick.  And it brought a smile to my face.  As someone who was trekking home from a hard work out after an even harder day of work, it was just what I needed.  And while I might not go out and buy Tropicana any time soon, their ploy worked well enough that I blogged about it so I guess that counts for something!

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Moving and Shaking

May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

So, I booked a trip this weekend.  Come Labor Day, Scott and I will be joining a group of anonymous strangers to spend eight days and seven nights traveling through Ecuador!

If you know me, you know I love to travel.  Since I made my first overseas journey in 2005, I’ve managed to get myself out of the country once a year ever since.  I have been incredibly lucky in the opportunities that I’ve had and I definitely do not take any of my experiences for granted.  A few years ago, I decided to try to hit every single continent (besides Antarctica, because pretty much the only people who get to go there right now are scientists or military personnel) before I was 30.  I’ve crossed off Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania (that was my New Zealand excursion) and with this latest trip booking, I’ll manage to seal the deal.  I really wasn’t planning on anything crazy like this this year and was content to go to Vancouver or some other, cheaper place closer to home, but I found a deal I just couldn’t pass up.  And since I’m more known for spontaneously purchasing plane tickets rather than shoes or purses, purchase a plane ticket I did!

The route!

I don’t normally go for the package deals and the only time I’ve ever really done so was for vacations in Mexico with my mom and sister, where it was all-inclusive and even the alcohol was a part of the deal.  Usually, I book my own hostels and figure out what I’m going to do on my own, which I generally enjoy.  It’s tougher to see as much as the country while doing this though and it’s certainly more expensive.  A while back I signed up for all kinds of email alerts regarding travel deals and on Friday one came my way that included hotel accommodations (no hostels on this trip!), most meals, all transport and transfers and airfare for a very reasonable price.  Most package deals don’t include the flight and that alone came sometimes run well over $1,000, depending on where you’re going.  This deal has it all and the hotels we’re staying in are all very nice.  We’ll be flying into the capital and spending two of the days traversing via canoe and raft to a hotel within the Amazon Rainforest, where we’ll get to hike around and meet with local families.  As a wee girl of maybe 13 or so, I created what I could now call a Bucket List and trekking through the Amazon was at the top of that.  I actually think I wrote ‘sleeping in a hammock in the Rainforest’ and as our hotel will have hammocks, this really is a dream come true.  Of course we’re a little nervous and anxious but the reviews I’ve read of this trip are all very positive and I figure it can’t be any scarier than showing up in Guatemala alone with a backpack, so I’m all for it.

Scott hasn’t done much traveling yet and his first time on a plane will actually be next week when we fly down to go see my dad in Louisiana, so obviously the idea of flying into South America is fairly exciting for him too.  I’m sure you’ll get to read more about this as the time draws nearer because I’m currently so incredibly pumped at this opportunity that I can barely sit still.  We debated long and hard because there are always plenty of reasons not to go (I’m really pushing it with my time off work, not to mention that while it’s a good deal it’s still not exactly free) but I really had the feeling that I would regret this if I let it pass so I’m feeling pretty good about the booking.  Which just goes to show, sometimes in life you have to take the chance and go for it!  One of my favorite quotes is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” and this is pretty much that case in point.

But there’s plenty to keep us occupied until then – we’ll be traveling via MegaBus this weekend to Indiana for my cousin’s college graduation party, then as I mentioned we’re going to Louisiana over Memorial Day.  After that will be three months of summer in Chicago, which is pretty much the best thing ever.  So even though today is a Monday, nothing can get me down!

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Honor Thy Mother

May 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Personally, I’m glad every single month that I don’t become a mother but I know there are people out there who actually want to procreate and this weekend we will be honoring the women who labored to give us life.  While I know many people do not have a mother really worth celebrating (which I find very tragic indeed), I’m extremely lucky because I think my mom is pretty much the best thing since the invention of cheese.  And I love me some cheese.  My mom is also a close friend of mine and I know that I can count on her for advice, wisdom and a reality check, should I need it.  She’s always told it how it is (like that time when I wanted to be a ballerina and she informed me I was too clumsy to even take lessons) but ultimately I appreciate that.  She’s also just plain fun, which must be where I get it.  I’m pretty sure my mom knows how much I love her every day of the year and one specific holiday doesn’t make or break that sentiment, but reminding her never hurts.

Thanks for everything, Mom.

It’s kind of strange since a lot of my friends and family members are becoming moms themselves, so the number of women I celebrate this weekend seems to be ever-increasing.  Of course I’m happy for all of them and as long as the newly pregnant doesn’t include my 17 year-old cousin, I’m cool with it.  However, I also know a few women who would be moms if they could but various circumstances stand in their way.  With fertility treatments, IVF, surrogacy and adoption all on the rise, the exact definition of a mother is constantly evolving and I think that’s awesome.  Unfortunately, some women can’t afford these treatments or solutions and simply must resign themselves to being the cool aunt that gives great hugs while sneaking some booze.  The women in my family all seem ridiculously fertile but I do have friends who are trying to figure their options out and it hurts my heart that someone who would make a truly great mom can’t be one while other women pop out babies like crazy while neglecting the ones they already have.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with all of this but I guess I wanted to remind people to take into consideration the fact that Mother’s Day isn’t always easy for some women out there.  Besides those who want children but don’t have them, there are women who have lost the children they did have (and I can’t imagine what this day must be like for them).  There are also women who could have been mothers but due to tough decisions, decided the timing or situation wasn’t right and did not go through with the pregnancy.  Just because a woman has had an abortion doesn’t mean she doesn’t think about it every now and then, even if she knows it was the right decision for her and regrets nothing.  Hell, there are even many men out there who double up and act as both mom and dad.  So keep in mind all of the various types of mothers out there this weekend and if you know someone who is, was or would be a great mom, send a little extra love in their general direction.  And if you appreciate your own mom, don’t forget to let her know – whether it’s today or Sunday or any other day of the week!

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It’s a Damn Shame…

May 9, 2012 at 11:49 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

…that some people enforce their ideas of right or wrong onto others.  Whatever happened to the idea of live and let live?  Whether it’s regarding gay rights, reproductive rights, government and/or politics (and these things seem to be more and more intertwined nowadays), I just don’t understand how one group of people can force their beliefs on another.  Especially in the case of religion, which is unfair to the true Christians out there.  Jesus supposedly said to love thy neighbor and there was no caveat about not loving thy gay neighbor so where the hell does this hatred come from?

You may have guessed that I’m a little upset about the recent vote in North Carolina (which, by the way, affects straight people too).

I think actor/comedian Seth Rogen said it best when he stated, “Claiming that someone else’s marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a donut because you’re on a diet.”  Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs but I also firmly believe that everyone should respect the differences in opinion that are out there.  Just because I don’t eat meat doesn’t mean I think we should pass constitutional amendments prohibiting others from doing so.  If someone doesn’t like the idea of gay marriage because they claim that the Bible speaks out against it, I suggest they take a look here.  The Bible never explicitly states that marriage is only between one man and one woman and even if it did, not everyone believes in what the Bible has to preach.  And since it’s the basis of a religion (which our founding fathers clearly wanted to keep separate from the Constitution), it should have no bearing on marriage laws today.  Besides that, the concept of marriage doesn’t solely belong to one religion or another.  It’s a human right and by denying it to the GLBT community, we’re basically saying that they’re subhuman.  As someone who is a part of this community, I find it disgustingly appalling.

Allowing two people who love each other to become stronger members of our society by giving them the same rights we’d give to a man and woman who drunkenly wed in Vegas (Britney Spears, I’m looking at you) isn’t something that’s going to destroy our society.  How could having stronger partnerships and more loving households possibly do that?  While I really do believe that I will live to see equality across the board when it comes to marriage, I simply don’t understand why it’s taking us so long to get there.  Did inter-racial marriages bring down the country?  Do the states that currently allow gays to wed still function?  Just what is the issue, then?

If you completely disagree with everything I’ve been saying, that’s your right.  I didn’t come to your house or office and make you read this post and you have the ability to just ignore me by steering clear of this blog.  Ignoring inequality isn’t something that’s so easy though and when that inequality is upheld by state and federal laws, I can’t just break those laws and get away with it.  If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one and please leave everyone else who’s trying to be happy to the pursuit of that happiness.  If it’s not hurting them then it shouldn’t hurt you.

Edit: Thank you Mr. President!

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Derby Daze

May 7, 2012 at 11:18 am (Uncategorized)

If you’re not from the (Indyucky) Kentuckiana area, you probably don’t realize what a huge deal the Kentucky Derby is.  However, anyone that hails from there can tell you that the horse race is the biggest thing to happen all year and brought in with over a month’s worth of parades, boat races and impressive fireworks displays.  I’ll admit now that I’ve never been to the Oaks (the race the day before the Derby) or the Derby myself but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the good time that these festivities have to offer.  And I have been to Churchill Downs on numerous occasions so I can at least appreciate the views from the stands.  The Derby is such a big deal in my hometown that our school would shut down the day before it every single year (boy, do I miss those days) and you had to pick and choose from the parties you were invited to.  All this for two minutes of racing might seem crazy to some, but to me it seems like the most natural thing in the world.

Congrats to the winning horse and his jockey!

Even so, it’s been a good many years since I partook in Derby festivities.  It’s a tough thing to do when you live in a city where most people don’t even know what the Derby is, let alone plan events to celebrate it.  It’s a tradition I wasn’t aware I missed until a lovely lady friend of mine and her husband (who happen to be from my hometown as well) decided to throw down and host a party themselves.  I was extremely excited when I got the invitation and immediately started planning my outfit and looking forward to some tasty mint juleps.  For those of you not in the know, dressing up is a big deal for the Derby and the right hat is crucial.  I was luckily able to borrow one from a coworker (her boyfriend is into horses and they’ve been to the Derby before) and I pulled my nicest dress from the back of the closet (which tells you how often I wear it).  I even splurged on a new pair of heels and some lipstick, while Scott bought new pants and a tie.  We looked mighty spiffy, if I do say so myself.  The party was a lot of fun and the hosts really pulled off an impressive feat – delicious southern food featuring Derby Pie and other tasty treats, along with homemade mint juleps that went down almost a little too smooth.  I got to see some faces I haven’t seen in a while plus meet some new people, all while preparing for the most exciting two minutes in sports.  There was betting (of course) but my horse didn’t even make the top five, so I got over my losses by downing another drink.  (Sidenote: my sister won $160 by placing bets online as she was working during the race…I will be making a mental note of this whole online betting thing for next year).  The whole party was a lot of fun and the night was capped by wandering through the grocery store in our super fancy duds, because we’re grown-ups and that’s how we roll.  Or ride.

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Just Because…

May 4, 2012 at 11:24 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

…I find this fascinating and wanted to share:

Certain bottlenose dolphins in Laguna, southern Brazil, have apparently taught themselves to work as a team with artisanal fishermen, creating a win-win for both the marine mammals and humans.

A study on the dolphins, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, has found that the most helpful ones also turn out to be particularly cooperative and social with each other, perhaps explaining why some wild dolphins decide of their own free will to work with humans, while others do not.

“Through highly synchronized behavior with humans, cooperative dolphins in Laguna drive mullet schools towards a line of fishermen and ‘signal,’ via stereotyped head slaps or tail slaps, when and where fishermen should throw their nets,” wrote lead author Fabio Daura-Jorge of the Federal University of Santa Catarina.with colleagues.

The effort is not entirely charitable on the part of the dolphins. Fish that escape the nets often swim right into the mouths of the dolphins, which have learned to wait for that fulfilling moment.

Sorry dogs, but this could be our new best friend.

Daura-Jorge and his team conducted boat surveys over a two-year period, collecting photo identification data and other information on the dolphins. Any that teamed up with humans for fishing was classified as “cooperative.” The others were classified as “non-cooperative.”

The researchers next used computer modeling to identify social relationships among the dolphins. “Cooperative” dolphins turned out to spend more time together, even when not assisting humans. They appeared to have their own social network within the larger local population of bottlenose dolphins.

The scientists suspect that “ecology, genetics and social learning” could be driving and maintaining the wild dolphin subset’s unique relationship with humans. Interestingly, the phenomenon seems to mirror how the Brazilian fishermen learn their trade.

“The human side of this dolphin-fishermen interaction is maintained through inter-generational information transfer, that is, teaching by elders, and it is likely that a similar process is used to transmit complex behavioral traits between generations of dolphins, as found in other localized behaviors, such as ‘sponging’ in Shark Bay, Western Australia,” they wrote.

“Sponging” refers to how some bottlenose dolphins tear off pieces of marine sponges and wear them on their snouts during foraging to protect them from scrapes and other damage.

Dolphin smarts help to explain some of these complex behaviors.

Lori Marino, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Emory University, told Discovery News, “If we use relative brain size as a metric of ‘intelligence’ then one would have to conclude that dolphins are second in intelligence to modern humans.”

Cooperation also appears to be a key component of advanced learning among all animals, and not just dolphins.

Luke McNally of the Theoretical Ecology Research Group at Trinity College Dublin explained, “The idea that the demands of complex social interactions could have driven the evolution of intelligence has been around since the mid 70’s. Most work on this hypothesis since then has utilized data from the primates to show that various social characteristics, such as group size, group stability and deception, correlate with brain size.”

Intelligence and cooperation go hand in hand, he said, with the former facilitating the latter. Cooperation alone is not necessarily very brainy, since some of the world’s “least cognitively complex” organisms, such as bacteria, are very cooperative. “Selection for cooperation,” McNally said, “drives the evolution of intelligence.”

Daura-Jorge and his team are now testing that idea out, by studying the genetics of the Laguna dolphins. It could be that certain dolphins are inheriting their human teamwork skills, with teaching mothers reinforcing the behaviors.

So long

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