Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just Like Christmas

You know that feeling when you wake up on Christmas morning and you know you will have gifts but you have no idea what they will be or what the day has in store?  Well, yesterday I had Christmas in August! Seventeen months ago I packed my entire apartment into a storage unit and sent it away leaving only the things I would be taking to New Zealand. Yesterday, the container was delivered and moved into my new apartment in Chicago.

I've never had professional movers before so it was a nice treat to just watch (or at least attempt to, as it turns out I'm not very good at just observing without helping) as my things were marched out of the storage unit.  I found myself getting more and more excited as boxes and belongings popped into view.  My tent! My golf clubs! My rollerblades! My ice skates!! I actually started to feel bad for the two movers because they couldn't keep me off the truck. I kept going up to try to "help" by pulling out all the odd shaped items that wouldn't stack neatly on their piles.  Or at least that's what I told myself, in reality I just wanted to see what might be next in this box of goodness.

By noon everything had been unloaded and it was time to open boxes and put things away. What many people dread during a move, was just more Christmas to me. One of the things I have missed most over the last 9 months (that's how long it's been since I've had a place to call home), is cooking for myself regularly. I wouldn't consider myself to be a cook, until I had to go without a kitchen for extended periods.  I tackled the kitchen first (cleaning before things could be put away) and then I moved to the bedroom, bathroom and storage.  I was an unpacking machine.  Dishes, clothes, photos, it all brought back a familiar feeling and memories.  There was always an odd one too... (where did that lei come from and why did I decide I needed it??). 

I even left my unpacking mania momentarily to meet the neighbors and see if anyone had a wireless signal I could temporarily borrow.  I was thrilled to find that directly across the hall is a couple that is my age and awesome!! I think I'm going to like it here (for awhile anyway). 

This morning I woke in my own bed.  Tonight I made dinner with my own pots and pans, cutting food with my own knives. I left dishes out after I ate. I filled the refrigerator with my own food. I still have a lot to do, in fact my list is about a mile long, but it's a start. Now I just need to find my own job.

Things to be thankful for:
- Great neighbors
- Another new beginning
- Future opportunities

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Last Stop: Motor City

Our last stop on this road trip included a few nights in Detroit to stay with our aunt and uncle (actually our great-aunt and great-uncle, but sometimes I forget that). I have stopped over many times to visit them in Grosse Ile, which is actually just south of Detroit but this was the first time I had a chance to stay longer than just one night.

Uncle Don, Aunt Lee and Matthew (their grandson, our cousin)
We crossed the bridge into the city from Canada at 9:00p on Monday and my sister pulled over into a gas station so we could get our bearings and type in the address on my GPS (we hadn't had cell signals since we left Maine on Thursday).  We were followed into the station by a green SUV, which was then followed by a police car.  Within two minutes the guys in the SUV were taken out and cuffed. After looking around we realized we may not have chosen the best location to stop...we quickly put ANY address into the GPS and left.

Detroit has taken a huge hit from the loss of jobs and the economic downturn, particularly in the auto industry and we learned that unlike most cities there is actually a shift going and people are leaving the inner city.  The city is essentially hollowing out as the economy is changing.  In order to counteract this shift, the government has taken a unique stance and they are encouraging "urban farming." (A few of the names I came across as I was looking into this are: Hantz Farms, Urban Farming, and Earthworks Urban Farm in case anyone is interested in more information).  It was fascinating and encouraging for me to learn the government was thinking outside of the box.

1956 Thunderbird in the museum
This leads me to my quintessential Detroit: the auto industry. My family has told me for years that I should visit the Henry Ford museum and each year I had to pass due to time constraints.  Well not this year and now I wish I had found the time sooner.  The museum is a huge building that masterfully brings visitors into the excitement of trains, planes and automobiles (and this coming from someone that looks at a car and usually just sees a car, not a piece of art). Although it's a massive building it's separated into sections to help you view what is of interest. Volunteers are spread throughout the museum to help you understand more about what you are seeing and in some cases they allow you to get right up close (I sat in a 1917 Overland and on the same seat where Rosa Parks refused to yield on the infamous bus).

Lydia driving the 1917 Overland
We spent much of the day exploring and wandering the area and we didn't even make it to the "village" where they have re-built famous buildings (nail for nail) from America's past including the home where Webster wrote his first American dictionary, and Edison created the light bulb, or where Lincoln practiced law.

At the end of our visit we each shared our favorite from the museum (we had split up during the day to focus on what we wanted to see).  It was interesting to hear how five different people had been in the same place and found so many different things to explore.

Lydia and I arriving back in Chicago
It all came full circle when I realized that my own car, which has taken me more than 3500 miles around the country on this trip, was also a Ford ('99 Escort) and had roots in this city as well. How fitting that this was the last stop on my trip before getting home.

Next stop:  Colorado over Labor Day week

Author's Note: Thank you to all of my wonderful family and friends who opened up their homes to me (and my sister) while we went on this fun journey.  I am happy to be home in Chicago now, but I am happier that I had time to spend with you all after so many years (because it was long before I left for New Zealand that I last saw many of you). To those that I haven't seen traveling is never really over...

My grandfather sent me some interesting numbers to help with the image of Detroit's population. I thought I would share them with you:
  • in 1900 Detroit had a population of 300,000.
  • in 1950 Detroit had a population of 1,000,000.
  • in 2010 Detroit has a population of 300,000.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ooo la la, Montreal

What an awesome city! I arrived on Thursday to stay with one of my best friends from college and her new husband in their apartment in Montreal (it was their wedding that started the trip for me in Missouri in July).  This was the first time I've visited this apartment in Montreal and it was a great location! On Friday I did a little bit of relaxing and exploring the shops nearby and then we grabbed an early dinner and some drinks that evening.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day and we took advantage of it by using a cool bike rental program in the city. Bixi bikes cost $5 for a bike rental for 24 hours.  The only key is that you pick up the bike from one of the 200 locations they have around the city and then you have to drop it off again either at the same location or a new one within 30 minutes. It's a great way to move around easily, cheaply and get exercise at the same time. We rented a bike in the Old Port and went across the river to one of the other islands (Montreal itself is on an island) to explore.

Without many clouds in the sky it started to get a bit warm by the afternoon so we headed back for some Thai food and naps before hitting the town that night. I was having a blast practicing my French (or lack thereof) greeting and thanking everyone throughout the day. (This only became a problem when they tried to respond at all with more French).

Saturday night we went out to get dinner in Saint Laurent (at L'Academie) which was very good and then we hit a martini bar (A Gogo Lounge) and finally settled at B Side, a very empty bar (which packed out as the night went on) with some great 90s music and a DJ that looked a little like Jesus but went by the name of Derek. The night was really leading up to was the poutine - a Montreal staple.

Poutine, a Montreal essential
When I asked what was "quintessential" Montreal, poutine was the first thing that was mentioned. Poutine originated in Quebec and is a dish of french fries, with cheese curds and brown gravy covering it all. Needless to say, I was not overly excited about this considering I only moderately like all of the ingredients included. I still think that this is not a food for the sober man (others may disagree).  However, for someone that has just left the bars on a Saturday was oddly delicious!

Sunday was spent relaxing (a theme for the weekend) intermixed with a bit more walking around the city (I now own a great new pair of shoes, checked out a few clothing boutiques, tried some frozen yogurt, and saw part of the Montreal Pride parade).  It is a wonderful, sophisticated city with a lot of European flair. I would go back again in a heartbeat, but my liver is much happier to be on the road again.  Next stop: Detroit.

Andrew, Malena and me out on the town Friday night

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Memories in Maine

Looking out on Great Moose Lake, Maine
When I was a kid we went to Maine for a month every summer.  We would spend the time on the lake at our family's camps (cabins for those outside of the Northeast) by Great Moose Lake. The other families that live or summer on the lake have been there for generations (it was our great-grandfather that originally started the Martin business in the 1920s) so my sister and I were known as "Greg's daughters" and most of our family still lives in the area. It's very different from the way I grew up in Missouri where my nearest relatives were in Colorado a 10 hour drive away.

Lobster Fest in Maine
My return to Maine this year brought back many of my memories from childhood and I gained some new memories too. Within two days of arriving, I genuinely forgot what day of the week it was (always a good sign at a vacation place). Time just seems to become unimportant. We spent time swimming, kayaking, reading, and relaxing. But with some effort I also made sure to continue my tourist mission and I ate lobster at every opportunity, drove Route 1 along the coast, visited L.L. Bean and Freeport, and went to a festival (the Lobster Fest!) to make sure I was seeing quintessential Maine.

Beyond the copious amounts of lobster I made it my job to eat, one of my greatest highlights of my time in Maine was spending an afternoon with my family. It's been a long time since we've been all together for a BBQ (although there were still a few people that were missed).

Lydia, Grampie (who turns 93 this month!), and Me
Things to be thankful for:
- My car making it to 100,000 miles!

- The Northeast. I don't know when I'll make it back again, but I will miss it until I do.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Biking Block Island and Heading North

On Saturday morning my uncle, cousin, sister and I took the ferry over to Block Island just off the coast of Rhode Island. (Author's note: I now realize that this naming could cause some confusion for people that aren't familiar with this area since Rhode Island is not actually an island at all.  It does have several islands off its coast, one of which is in fact where the state's name originated from.  The full name of the state is "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" but that seems awfully long for the smallest state in the country and I wasn't even aware of it until I checked out Wikipedia...)

Paul: Pure concentration
Anyway, back on Block Island, the four of us arrived and immediately went to rent bikes and start exploring.  Unfortunately, it was turning out to be a hot day so what may have been a long ride became a much more leisurely paced tour around just a small slice of the island.  We stopped by the road to putter around on some greens kindly set up by a local (I barely scraped out a win in our own round robin family tourney). The golf was followed by more biking (this time mostly downhill) and a stop at the beach for some swimming, splashing and a few short races (again amongst ourselves).

That afternoon we headed back to the mainland for a BBQ hosted by my aunt's family in Narragansett. There were times when I wouldn't have been shocked if a Casey Affleck character had walked in and joined the conversation with his own stories of growing up. I was surrounded by true Northeasterners: dialect and all.  I enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in.

Meagan, Me, Kate enjoying the afternoon
And was time to leave.  My entire week in Boston and Rhode Island ended in the blink of an eye. I was having so much fun re-visiting places, doing things I haven't done and catching up with people, that I didn't even realize it was flying by. I made it back to Boston on Sunday and was fortunate enough to meet up with my American roommate, Meagan, who was coincidentally also in the city visiting a friend. We had a great afternoon in South Boston and then an awesome dinner by the water at a swanky Mexican cantina (called Temazcal in case anyone is in the area. I would recommend it).

I ended my fantastic week talking politics, solving the world's problems, and sipping wine with my family on the back deck of their house. Monday morning it was off to Maine for more family time and a bit more "quintessential" America.

Next up: Moving up the coast to Maine

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Playing in the Sand

After leaving Cape Cod we drove south to Narragansett, Rhode Island to meet my aunt, uncle and cousin for the weekend.  On Thursday night I tried some quahogs (quintessential Rhode Island) and we made plans for the beach on Friday morning.
The day was a bit cloudy but it wasn’t going to stop us.  We paid our beach fee (a sore point for someone that enjoyed free beaches in New Zealand – but it was a nice beach and right outside of our hotel so in the end a small price to pay) and set up camp between the surfers and swimmers.

First on the agenda: building a sand castle.  My uncle and I plotted a spot and then started to dig, 5 minutes into what was surely to be our masterpiece we changed directions and decided to test our skills with a sand turtle instead (the lack of building utensils may have been a big part of our switch).  People on the beach were beginning to admire what we were working on, a crowd was forming (actually it was just my sister offering her critique of the dimensions of said turtle) and soon we had a nearly life-like specimen.  Or at least we thought we did pretty well.

We sank back into our chairs and within five minutes a small, seemingly innocent boy of about 6 came over to admire the work.  I don’t think he realized he was standing within 20 feet of the creators because he bent down to inspect it a bit further. He carefully started appraising the turtle from several angles before plucking out the seashells that had been placed as eyes.  Ok, maybe he doesn’t think the eyes were well placed.  We weren’t really sure where they went when we created it anyway.  But, he had our attention. 

My family and I all watched bemused as the small boy then started to meticulously destroy the front flippers.  He wasn’t the smash and stomp type either.  He grabbed handfuls of sand and squished it between his little fingers letting it drop back in place, essentially pulverizing our turtle in slow tortuous steps.  Where was this child’s parents?! We had no choice but to giggle and observe as this child did his best work to destroy ours.

Next to go were the back flippers and then a nearby stick became a new tool of destruction and the turtle’s shell was turned into a mixing bowl for what he must have imagined was now turtle soup.  As the piece de resistance he threw a crab shell that was also within reach into the concoction and gave another callous stir with the stick. When that was finished he tossed the stick in and strutted away (yes, there was definitely a swagger in his step). 

An hour of building and 15 minutes of destruction.  It’s great how much fun can be had with just some sand.

Next Up:  Block Island, Visiting friends, and Dinner on the pier in Boston

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Quintessential Boston: Chowdah and Cape Cod

I arrived in Boston on Monday afternoon, perfect timing to see my uncle and cousin play in their recreational hockey league that night.  The last time I watched my cousin on the ice, he was no taller than my waist (he now towers over me at 6’3”) and I’ve never had the privilege of watching my uncle play so I was excited. Even shivering on the bench as the sole spectator, I had fun watching them crush their opponents (who were in the tougher division above them).  

My cousin, Paul (#10)
My uncle keeping his eye on the puck

On Tuesday morning, my sister arrived and we headed out to the Cape for a few nights of camping. The campground was a great little place (Sweetwater Forest) in Brewster about 1/3 of the way up the Cape.  We set up camp and found our way to the local seafood/ice cream place for some local fare.  My new favorite word is “quintessential” and in the Boston area that happens to be Clam Chowder (“chowdah” to the locals) and Cape Cod.  I had both when I sat down to some clam cakes, clam chowder and a soda at a picnic table after arriving on the Cape. 

The next day offered beautiful weather in the 80s (especially considering it was in the 100s in the Midwest) for a day filled with biking and exploring.  That night we even caught a Cape League baseball game when the Brewster Whitecaps played the Chatham A’s and won. 

The weather was perfect and my first three days in the Boston area couldn’t have gone better.  My accomplishments as a tourist in America are quickly growing.

Biking 14 miles along the Cape Cod Rail Trail:  Check.
Watching a baseball game on Cape Cod:  Check.
Enjoying some chowder and ice cream in Boston:  Check.

Next Up:  A weekend with the family in Rhode Island.