Sure Signs

Drive on left airport sign Dublin Ireland

AKA: These sure are signs!

Many exciting things are happening around here.

So many of them, in fact, and so exciting, that I don’t have the time or energy to report on them before August is over!!

Therefore, please indulge in the following selection of funny signs collected on Arthur’s and my second annual work-related pilgrimage to Ireland, plus this time Scotland:

Anteater sign outside museum in Dublin Ireland

Dublin National History Museum making everyone feel welcome

Beware of Cyclists sign Dublin Ireland

Usually good advice

Thermos Museum poster Edinburgh Fringe

My kind of culture! (off the beaten path at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival)

Good work

Good work, team

Flour and eggs exam sign University of Edinburgh

When I finished my exams, I usually just went home

Choking to Death on a Currant Bun

How did we miss this show??

Just Falafs funny falafel sign

One of the better food-related puns we came across

Last but not least, a reassuring sign of the times:

Drag nun with round glasses

???

A drag nun performing at the Frankenstein pub during the Edinburgh Fringe!!!

As you (hopefully) do some gallivanting around this Labor Day weekend, keep those eyes peeled for fun in written form. Send me your faves and I’ll post ’em on the blog!

Blessings by the Pound

The summer is flying by in a blur of good work, awesome trips, and rolling heat waves! But as the old saying goes, I am:

Too Blessed 2 Be Stressed

One clear highlight amid the menagerie: meeting Paula Poundstone at a Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me taping in Chicago!

Paula Poundstone with adoring fans in Chicago

The suit? “You never know when you’re going to have to serve ice cream.”

She is as divine as I expected; perhaps more. I mean, just look at her suit!! I was so happy to have decided on the striped top that day. #twinsies

Until the next dispatch, big summer blessings to all.

ArtPlace America: Birthdays & Anniversaries Edition

I like birthday parties as a rule, but when attending one leads to new friends, new work, and new travel possibilities, my like grows into love.

Such was the case a year ago last May, when I met Sarah Westlake—esteemed writer, teacher, and editor of the ArtPlace America blog—at a birthday party in (where else?) Brooklyn. It turned out we had some friends, some favorite beers, and some editorial pursuits in common. She told me she might have some work for me in the future, and before parting ways, we exchanged business cards. I was excited, but tried to keep calm, since I’ve learned anything can happen in the wild world of freelancing.

ArtPlace Annual Summit 2018 Polaroid Louisville Kentucky

A vision of things to come
(portrait by the singular Eli Keel: twitter.com/thateli)

Happily, this chance meeting was not my last with Sarah. Fast forward a handful of months, and I was pitching her story ideas and starting to write some posts. (You can peep the first few here, on the topics of: health equity and art; preserving black culture in gentrifying neighborhoods; and a public utility’s investment in their community’s story.)

I was already stoked with the new gig, but when Sarah asked if I could cover a couple of upcoming creative placemaking conferences happening in other states, my stoked-ness increased. While I’ve learned that traveling for work has its ups and downs, I still get a kick out of it. Plus I had never been to Madison, New Jersey (“A Town Right Out of Central Casting“) or Louisville, Kentucky (home of bourbon, baseball bats, and that famous derby), which meant one more uptick on the stoked-o-meter. So I packed my bags and experienced every major public transit typology to help document the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit’s Northeastern Corridor Conference on May 3 & 4 and the ArtPlace 2018 Annual Summit, May 21 – 23.

If I were to sum up these trips in two words, I would use the words: GOOD STUFF.

My posts from the events are still in process, so I’ll have to leave you with that verbal cliffhanger for now, but I can share a handful of my choice snaps from in and around the proceedings:

Woven tapestry featuring people

One of Ebony G. Patterson’s remarkable photo tapestries
(exhibited at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville)

Shine Bright cardinal mural downtown Louisville Kentucky

Rad mural in downtown Louisville
(if anyone knows who painted it, please leave a comment!)

Skippy in the trash can

One or another of America’s finer airports, exhorting you to throw your perfectly good food and toiletries into the garbage

A big thank you to Sarah, ArtPlace, and a couple of groovy U.S. states I don’t often get to for extending me such a warm welcome this past year. I hope our relationships can enjoy that most oft-uttered of birthday wishes: many happy returns.

Ireland: You had to (have to) be there

I lived in Ireland the summer of 2002, right after I graduated from college. I shared a house with a gaggle of girls on the outskirts of Galway; worked in an old men’s pub in the evenings and a coffee shop during the day; and left town as much as I could on the weekends to see the neighboring sea cliffs, sheep fields, matchmaking festivals (events run from “after Mass, till late”), and all the other things that make this diminutive green country so very Irish. (I would paste up a photo or two here, but they were all taken with real film!!)

When Arthur was tasked with going to Dublin for work earlier this month, I happily packed up my laptop and tagged along. While he was in the office, I worked from our third-floor walk-up accommodations in the amazingly named neighborhood of Ballsbridge, venturing occasionally to our local chapter of Insomnia Coffee for a sweet treat and some B-grade European pop music. We took a couple of days off at the end of the week to travel around, and I could shower you for hours with anecdotes of all the wonderful Irish-ness we encountered, but you probably only have time for a wee dose, so I’ll just pick a few.

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

  • At a Thai restaurant in Killarney, after we finished an excellent bike ride through the area’s drop-dead gorgeous national park, we were tapped by the group of middle-aged guys at the next table for our opinions of one guy’s sock-and-shoe choice (a potent combo of orange and blue striped stockings with tan leather Oxfords). Our hearty approval touched off a good 15 minutes of conversation, in which our suspicions that the Irish and American definitions of “salty” and “spicy” vary considerably were confirmed. (Arthur used to work with an Irish woman who, in fact, told him of their famously bland food, “Ah yes, we do consider salt a spice.”) One of the men pointed to the bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce on the table and called it “Kill a Man.” When another asked if I’d tried the Sriracha and I said we had a bottle in our fridge at home, he just put his head in his hands.
Paddy Fahy's pub in Galway, Ireland

Paddy Fahy’s pub in Galway, Ireland

  • It was fascinating to go back to Galway and see my old haunts. Or really, try to see them. I found I remembered relatively little, at least geographically, of my time there. Thankfully, I still had the address of the pub stowed in my mind, and we were able to find it without trouble (though it was shut tight on a Saturday night—Paddy, where are you??), but I couldn’t locate the big yellow house I’d shared with the girls, the town’s centerpiece Eyre Square could have been dropped in from Barcelona for all I knew, and I realized I had no memory of the routes I’d walked between home and my jobs every day. (The locally owned coffee shop, we deduced, was gone, most likely replaced by a Mocha Beans, the national chain that seems to be everywhere now.) I’m sure I’ll be stewing on the reasons for this mental blank-out for a while; for now, I can only chalk it up to all the other stuff I’ve crammed my brain with in the past 15 years putting the squeeze on older memories!
Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

  • We took a “black cab” tour of Belfast, something I’d wanted to do but been a little nervous about when I was last in Ireland. I’m so glad we did it this time, though it did indeed put me on edge to hear someone who had lived through it tell of the decades of violent struggle the people here have endured—as well as the fact that, despite never hearing a word about it in American news anymore, the conflict is still not resolved. Aside from the sights we saw (which included many haunting murals, images of the frightening bonfires still held in Protestant neighborhoods today, and the “peace wall”), it was the nature of the tour I found so arresting: a professional cab driver, a Catholic native to Belfast, was our only host, so the tour was super visceral, emotional, and biased. I loved it. Yet I was so caught off guard by everything I internalized in such a short time (such as the concept that this isn’t so much a religious conflict as one between colonizer and colonized) that, even though I had about a hundred questions flying through my mind, I noticed myself keeping as mum as the Swiss couple who shared our cab. Stupefying though it was, the experience was a pointed reminder that, no matter how well we think we’re keeping up with news from abroad, there’s no substitute for being there to help round out our understanding of the world.

By the end of our trip, I had absolutely drunk the Irish kool-aid (and, this time, I don’t mean the Guinness!). Despite some pretty crap weather and a few meals no amount of salt or hot sauce could save, I felt the magic and soul of this little dewy island that’s seen so much. Thanks for having me again, Éire.

Bearded Men O The West postcard Ireland
Red window with pink flowers in Galway Ireland
Near the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim

Betty White, aliens, & OMG! Puppies: Tripping through Big Foot Land & beyond

Blue Wonder Woman mug with purple flowers

This sums a lot of it up

Over a ten-day span last month, Arthur and I ate supernaturally fresh produce among the Sequoioideae in California; viewed a surprisingly large number of Krylon-wrought, alien-themed murals on corrugated metal in the deserts of Nevada; and moshed in the pool with the hundreds of other metalheads attending the Psycho Las Vegas festival at the Hard Rock Hotel in so-called Sin City. (Okay, I did not mosh in the pool, and I am not even a proper metalhead—but I did survive among their throngs for several days!)

I’ve had the great good fortune of taking many epic trips in my life: I’ve driven Australia’s Gold Coast, seen the sunrise over Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, made it through Iceland’s Fimmvörðuháls hike in one long day, gotten lost on a mountain bike in the Judean Desert, soaked in mountain onsen ryokans in Japan, even hobbled around the Great Pyramid of Giza in an air cast. I’ve been so happy and grateful for them all, but I’ve noticed that what makes a trip especially enjoyable and memorable can’t always be predicted. The most potent travel magic, I’ve found, isn’t necessarily made by combining a greater number of days with a longer flight and a more impressive to-do list. Not to say I don’t retain vivid memories of drunken late-night singing with locals in a rural Russian dacha, or speeding in a Jeep through the jungles of Cambodia with a bunch of brawny Aussies—I absolutely do! Just that, sometimes, a relatively unassuming trip will pack a bigger than expected punch of awesomeness.

Such was the case with this recent voyage west. I guess it was a few things: the combination of great food and great company throughout; the right balance of activities and downtime; and a rotating kaleidoscope of natural and social environs that kept my brain keyed up without making me dizzy. Well, some things did bring on at least momentary vertigo:

Toxic waste alien sign Nevada

Toxic waste, Nevada

Bellagio fountains show

Bellagio fountain show, Las Vegas

Goat Rock California

Goat Rock, California

Oh, and I think I touted these guys, too:

Per usual, I came home with too much show-and-tell to fit in one blog post—good thing this WordPress subscription automatically renews!

Until the next brain dump, thanks for the unassuming but epic embarrassment of riches, western U.S. I’ll be back for more.

Poll: Without the talking seal with a Boston accent, is the NEAQ still worthwhile?

My husband hails (more or less) from the Boston area, and told me some time ago about Hoover the Talking Seal, once a fixture at the New England Aquarium. Though we were 30+ years too late to catch him on our recent visit there (d’oh!), I was still tickled to imagine the salty guy toddling and lounging around the same pools we we were now walking past, imploring visitors to “Get outta here!” or simply asking “How are ya?” with his famous Beantown inflection.

Sad though we were, the bodacious anemones, giant leopard-spotted ray (housed in a tank where you could reach in and touch it if it got close enough!), and mesmerizing schools of small, speeding silver fish did help to fill the Hoover-shaped hole in our gawking consciousnesses.

What say you? Are you too crestfallen by Hoover’s absence to enjoy a day at the aquarium without him? Or might you also be able to find sufficient joy in the cauliflower-like jellyfish, leg-diameter pythons, and tiny bopping spiky-haired penguins? No judgment either way.

2,000 miles of driving, 26 feet of truck, & uncountable marionettes: Mom’s miraculous move to Brooklyn

My mom had thought about moving back to Brooklyn, New York (from whence she came in the 1940s) from her adopted home of Colorado for many years. But when the time finally came to load up a big, bad Penske truck and drive it the 2,000 miles over here, my husband and I noticed something.

She hadn’t packed. At all.

Man and woman standing in moving truck

Arthur & Mom share a “ruh roh” moment in the Penske

As we walked around the large house she’d owned for almost 40 years, the house we’d budgeted about two days to liquidate before starting our drive, our thoughts were roughly split between, “Whaaaa?” and “How in god’s name are we going to do this?”

I chalk my mom’s lack of prep work up to a few things: not having moved in decades and forgetting how long it takes; deciding to take the relocation plunge on relatively short notice; and having struck an agreement with the buyer of her property that she didn’t have to leave it empty. Still, it was something of a jaw-dropper.

Fortuitously for us, my best bud from junior high, pictured above (who served as Gay of Honor at our wedding last fall), has orchestrated a few large-scale events in his time, and knew exactly how to pack a moving truck to perfection. Equally wonderfully, my mom was decisive about what she wanted to keep and what could stay behind, and my amazing huzz shuttled furniture and boxes to and fro for two straight days with a smile on his face.

After I’d snapped photos of my childhood home from every angle I could imagine, and taken one last soda-buying trip to the 7-11 behind our house (site of untold quarters spent on video games and untold numbers of dental cavities brought about by its bountiful, cursed pouches of Big League Chew), we were all loaded up and ready to go—a whole half day ahead of schedule!

Man screaming as woman drives moving truck

Mom takes the wheel

Farm silos from a car on the highway

The great Midwest

The week that followed, as I look back on it now, was a blur of $100 diesel fuel tabs, nights spent on midwest relatives’ couch beds, and the seemingly innumerable marionettes that hang from the ceiling of Rudy’s Tacos in Waterloo, Iowa. In other words: an ideal vacation.

Now it’s back to work (which I love), fixing up our house (which is fun), and teaching my mom how to use her new smartphone (which is… gratifying, at times). But a little piece of me will remain back at Cubby’s Convenience in Gothenberg, Nebraska, reflecting on our miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime road trip over a burning hot basket of fried something.

Colorful bunny shaped Easter treats

Bye for now, road bunnies

A good sign: The Women’s March on Washington

Of course, there were about a BAJILLION good signs there, which is the focus of this post.

But the pun is not lost on me that this event was also a good sign of broad support for women’s rights (oh man—”broad support for women’s rights”? they just keep coming!) as well as for human rights, environmental stewardship, and general common sense and decency across the board.

Those sentiments came across loud and clear in thousands of amazing handheld signs and banners. (Which is quite fortunate for me: if a sign is worth a thousand words, and I tried to convey the meanings of thousands of signs… I’d have loads and loads of words to write!) If only I’d been able to capture more. But here’s a decently representative sample:

Womens march protest sign

Mega-love to all the amazing people out there! It was a miraculous day suffused with positive vibes, politeness on all fronts, and even the responsible disposal of litter!

See you at the next.

Family at Womens March on Washington

How my wedding was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show

No, not the outfits!

Well, maybe.

Happy wedding couple with smiling officiant

We got all the colors?! Yay!

Initially, I was thinking about the Time Warp factor.

For many months, I’d known I was going to take two solid weeks off in mid-October to host family and friends from out of town, do the nuptial deed itself, and spend a handful of days chilling out in Canada on our honeymoon. All of which I did and enjoyed! However, I did not expect that also:

  • My fiance would get his right pinky finger shattered by a blindly-opened car door while riding his bike a week before the wedding; that we’d spend half that day in the emergency room and another whole day at a surgery center on the other side of NYC; or that we’d have to employ two friends with sewing skills to modify his dress shirt and suit jacket so he could fit into them on our wedding day.
  • My Gay of Honor—who was slated to do my hair and help us with about 1,000 other things—would burn the crap out of his left hand (and of course he’s a lefty) while making dinner the night before flying into NYC to stay with us.
  • The kind soul who offered to ferry our wedding clothes to the venue would unknowingly drop Arthur’s suit pants off their hanger, and no one would notice until approximately an hour before photos were to start being taken, and Arthur would wind up getting married in a pair of Uniqlo jeans.

So I guess all of that accounts for some of the time-suck. But how did I not write a blog post for a whole month? How have my first few days back to work flown much faster than usual, even though I’m still ramping back up to full work capacity? How is it that one day, I’m eating delicious maple cookie ice cream in sunny Montreal, and the next, I’m warming up leftover green beans in my kitchen in rainy Brooklyn??

Clearly, we’ve been busy. But I do think there’s also a psychic time-warp element to this experience… Perhaps not unlike the one portrayed in The Rocky Horror Picture Show??

Rocky Horror Picture Show time warp

With a bit of a mind flip / You’re into a time slip / And nothing can ever be the same!

Indeed, as the song goes, I have felt “spaced out on sensation” for much of the past four weeks—which I suppose is kind of the point. While it’s been a little disorienting coming back to normal life and work, it was a very worthwhile and gratifying experience to plan, execute, and now come down from such a ginormous, once-in-a-lifetime affair. I know I’ll be drawing on it in a myriad of ways for many moons to come. Especially after reality sets in and I’m fully able to believe it wasn’t all a dream.

***

p.s. I owe a hat tip to the aforementioned Gay of Honor, who brought Rocky Horror to my attention back in high school, and who recently attended a live screening in our native Colorado looking like about a trillion dollars in this homemade Madonna getup:

noah-as-madonna

Go, babe!!

 

Labor Day fantasy fun-times: The famous river surfers of Munich

Perhaps you are preparing to engage in a water-related activity of some kind this holiday weekend: a little frolicsome jet-skiing, some picturesque ocean snorkeling, or just a lazy rowboat ride around the lake.

If you are, mazel tov! But if, like me, you’re poised to stay largely indoors this weekend, deluged with work (always a good problem to have!), planning your wedding, and perhaps freaking out about a possible upcoming house purchase, then you will want to identify some good Labor Day fantasy fun-time water activities that you can enjoy by simply imagining yourself doing them. Right?

I already found my go-to, courtesy of my excellent cousin Geoff, who was in Europe for work a few months ago and sent me this photo, with the included caption:

River surfers in Munich Germany

“Yesterday, I saw the famous river surfers of Munich in action!”

I loved what I saw, but had evidently been living under a rock and was not yet aware of this exotic species. To ensure I would be absorbing only the most objective and rigorously fact-checked information on the topic, I turned to Vice, which explained that the powerful wave in the Eisbach River (a small, man-made arm of the Isar River) where these dudes do their thing is “the result of a rare mistake in German engineering.”

Apparently, a series of concrete blocks was submerged in the Eisbach in the ’70s to slow its flow before it reached the calm canals of Munich’s English Garden, located a ways down the river. An unintended effect of the blocks was the creation of a rapid. That plus some additional manipulation of the area by surfers (in the form of lashing their spare boards to some nearby bridge pylons) worked together to form the Eisbachwelle!, now Germany’s premier surfing wave.

So there we have it: legendary inland surfing (sometimes inland nude surfing, according to Vice) in a country otherwise not well-known for its beaches. What a lovely plot twist!

If that type of unanticipated wonder is possible, maybe I should hold out hope for scoring a little outdoor time (and maybe even some water time?) this Labor Day weekend after all.