The American Road Trip – Why Every High School Graduate Needs to Do It.

You’ve done it — you’re just over a month away from completing the 13 years of school that make you eligible for entry level jobs, college admission, and mean that you’re now generally accepted as an adult (even though most of you aren’t even close). So what do you do with this last summer of freedom? Well, you better use it wisely because it really is your last summer of freedom. After this it will be jobs, internships, and very little time to do something crazy. You’re in a state of transition now; big changes are approaching quickly. The American Road Trip is the best way to celebrate your accomplishments, cherish your high school friendships, and prepare you for the unlimited independence you will soon have. Plus, it’s one of the most fun things you’ll do in your lifetime.

These are the key elements to having the perfect road trip:

1.) Live cheaply. This is important because otherwise you won’t actually get to experience what America is really like. If you spend all your time in hotels, resorts, and at tourist destinations, then what are you getting out of the trip? Not that much. So, pack a tent and stay at national parks which are incredibly cheap or even free. The bonus sides of staying at campgrounds and national parks are that you get to see the beautiful landscape that America is known for. America is one of the most diverse countries in the world in terms of landscapes; we’ve got everything from glaciers to deserts, so seeing all of these things is important to a great American road trip. Other bonuses of living cheaply are getting to meet locals, seeing sights that are off the beaten path, and not getting frustrated by Interstate and city traffic. (Oh and, of course, saving money.)

Tip: Try to save YOUR OWN money for this trip. Using money given to you by your parents just won’t make it the same experience, and you won’t learn as much from it. I saved $1200 of my own over the course of my senior year by babysitting to make my road trip happen — and I didn’t even use all of it.

When my boyfriend and I drove from Portland, Maine to Paradise, Montana we religiously stayed at campgrounds and national parks. Sometimes we stayed with friends we knew across the country as well, which has it’s own perks. We spent many nights around campfires talking to hitchhikers, RV-travelers, and park rangers alike. On our trip, we stayed at campgrounds in Red Wing, Minnesota, Mitchell, South Dakota, and Brodhead, Wisconsin. We also stayed at Wind Cave National Park and Glacier National Park. Then we stayed with friends in Chicago, Cleveland, and Harrisburg.

This could also mean using online programs like WWOOF, CrewSeekers, and CouchSurfers to find a place to stay and eat for free in exchange for work.

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Red Wing, Minnesota

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Local bar

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Glacier National Park – Gunsight Pass Trail

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Glacier National Park

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Glacier National Park – Gunsight Lake

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Bighorn Rams on a back road in South Dakota

2.) Your traveling companion needs to be your best friend. If you don’t do this with your best friend, it could turn out disastrously. Then again, it could turn out great. But by doing it with your best friend, you’ll form memories and a bond that will last a lifetime. High school friendships inevitably fade, but this experience together will make your friendship transcend the boundaries of high school. It will truly become a lifelong friendship.

Asa and our car at a scenic outlook in South Dakota

Asa and our car at a scenic outlook in South Dakota

3.) Don’t be afraid to fly by the seat of your pants. Making plans on the fly can be nerve wracking, but that’s what road tripping is all about. When you see billboards for “Wall Drug” or “The World’s Largest Corn Palace,” don’t be afraid to pull off at the next exit — those are the things that make the road trip both fun and full of great stories to tell. Also, be prepared for your plans to fall through. Once, my boyfriend and I were planning on spending four nights in Bighorn Canyon National Park. This happens to be in the middle of a desert in Wyoming. Once arriving, we spent a long time trying to drive our tents stakes into the gravel — even having to borrow a hammer from a neighboring RV. However, once finally getting our stakes in the ground — the tent just blew right over, laying flat to the ground. So, we had to say ‘Fuck the desert’ and move on. Thank god for smartphones, with which we could Google hotels in the area and book one for the night. Consequently, we had to drive two more hours to Sheridan, Wyoming over a massive mountain range. Our little 2002 Toyota Corolla barely made the journey; we had to stop the car at every scenic overlook just to make sure it didn’t overheat. However, this was one of the best memories of our entire trip. We also had to re-work our plans for the next five days, and consequently discovered Wind Cave National Park, which is one of the coolest places we’ve ever been. We fondly refer to that whole experience as the “Desert Fiasco.” These are the moments you live for on a road trip — the ones you didn’t ever mean to happen. These experiences prepare you for the realities of living on your own. You learn how to make your own decisions quickly and confidently and not be terrified of the outcome.

 

 

"The Desert Fiasco"

“The Desert Fiasco”

The Desert

The Desert

One of the scenic overlooks at which we rested our car

One of the scenic overlooks at which we rested our car

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Wind Cave National Park

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Wind Cave National Park

4.) Don’t be afraid to splurge. Splurging is important; it can rejuvenate you and it’s just as much a part of a place’s culture as the low-budget joints. It depends on who you are and what you like, but you could splurge on anything from a nice bed and breakfast to a fancy dinner. Asa and I stayed in the Africa Room at the Coyote Blues Village Bed and Breakfast for one night on our way to Montana — private bathroom, private patio and hot tub, private entrance, and a great breakfast in the morning. It was wonderful, we both highly recommend it. We also splurged several times on meals, as we’re both quite the ‘foodies.’ Our favorite meal, however, was at The Silk Road in Missoula, Montana. It was a tapas restaurant with foods from all around the world. It was one of the best meals we’ve ever had (which is saying a lot considering we live in Portland, Maine which is evidently the fine dining capital of the US.) We got seven tapas and drinks for $50 flat — absolutely fantastic food and price.

The Bed and Breakfast

The Bed and Breakfast

The Africa Room

The Africa Room

Rejuvenation after 4 days straight in a car

Rejuvenation after 4 days straight in a car

5.) Budget, Budget, Budget. Although you’re making plans on the fly and occasionally splurging, you must always be aware of your finances. At least every other day I would suggest checking your bank account to make sure everything’s all set. Some days you’ll spend more than you thought you would and you’ll have to know that. Otherwise, you’ll run out of cash and find yourself stranded in a strange place that probably has very spotty cell service. So, while you need not be scared of spending all your money on this trip, make sure all that money gets you back home. Asa and I spent a total of $2000 during our 4-week long road trip. We did lots of hiking, ate lots of great food, and went to two amusement parks. It will depend on where you stay and how you live, but it is entirely possible to drive cross country and back on $1000 per person.

So, what will high school graduates gain out of an American road trip? Lifelong memories and lifelong friendships for starters; those are truly the most important things that will make the summer the best ever. However, practically speaking graduates will learn how to manage their money, balancing fun with necessity. They will learn to live in the moment, not worrying too much about either the past or the future. They will learn  what their personal priorities are. Is having a shower everyday a must? What about a real bed? These are important things to know about yourself. Graduates will learn more about themselves on this trip than they ever have before in their life.

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Tip: A sample itinerary (as provided by my own road trip in Summer 2013):

Day 1: Drive Portland to Harrisburg (8 hrs). Stay with relatives.

Day 2: Drive Harrisburg to Chicago (12 hrs). Go to friends’ gig for a few hours. Stay with friends.

Day 3: Drive Chicago to Red Wing, Minnesota (6 hrs). Set up our tent for the first time. Stay at campground.

Day 4: Drive Red Wing to Rapid City (10 hrs). Stay at Bed and Breakfast. (We got up to watch the sunrise over Mt. Rushmore)

Day 5: Drive Rapid City to Paradise, Montana (13 hours). Stay at farm on which we WWOOFed. See here for details about WWOOF program.

Day 6-19: WWOOFing on a lavender farm. Our work arrangement allowed us to have afternoons and weekends off to explore Montana. Work arrangements will vary from farm to farm. We got to see Glacier National Park, Missoula, and the National Bison Range during these afternoons. We also spent a lot of time swimming and hanging out on the farm or in the little town which the farm was located. This is a great way to travel cheaply in any country; plus you get to see both sides of the place you’re in, the local and the tourist.

Our farm - Paula Jean's Lavender Farm

Our farm – Paula Jean’s Lavender Farm

Our tent at the farm

Our tent at the farm

The river at the farm to swim in

The river at the farm to swim in

Asa hard at work harvesting lavender

Asa hard at work harvesting lavender

Day 20: Drive Paradise to Lovell, Wymoing (9 hrs) to Sheridan, Wyoming (2 more hrs). This day involved what we fondly refer to as the “Desert Fiasco.” Stay at Mill Inn.

Day 21: Drive Sheridan to Wind Cave National Park (5 hrs). Go on a cave tour. Stay at the campground in the park.

Day 22: Go on more cave tours and go for a hike. We also ate at a very interesting local restaurant in Pringle, South Dakota for dinner. Stay at campground again.

Day 23: Drive Wind Cave to Mitchell, SD (4.5 hrs). Go bowling. Stay at campground.

Day 24: Drive Mitchell to Brodhead, Wisconsin (8 hrs). Stay at Sweet Minihaha Campground (we do NOT recommend). We had a very memorable night however. It was the first night all summer that it rained — and it poured. The rain blew into the tent and the whole tent flooded. Lightning was going off non-stop. We had to evacuate to the car and play cards until the storm passed. The tent was ruined — luckily it was our last night in the tent. We woke up to discover that every other fellow tenter had left in the middle of the night.

Day 25: Drive Brodhead to Columbus. Stay with friend.

Day 26: Go to Cedar Point Amusement Park. Stay again with friend.

Day 27: Drive Columbus to Harrisburg. Stay with relative.

Day 28: Go to Hershey Park. (This was free for us because Asa’s uncle is high up on the Hershey corporate ladder.) Stay again with relative.

Day 29: Drive Harrisburg to Portland. AND WE’RE HOME.

This itinerary is what I did. What you do will depend on lots and lots of things; What do you want to see? Where are you from? What can you afford? Etc, etc. Planning the trip initially is one of the best parts of the road trip, but always remember that those plans WILL change because things happen when you’re out alone on the open road. So don’t be too attached to those tentative plans. Also, try and keep in contact with your parents as your plans change. They will greatly appreciate it because, as much as this summer is about you learning to manage your independence, it’s also about your parents learning to let you have that freedom.

Tip: Take pictures and pictures and pictures because you’ll want to remember every second. However, don’t live in the lens because then you’ll never truly experience anything. Strike the balance.

 

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Playing with Fire | Camera Shutter Speed and ISO Manipulation: Take 1

Recently, I’ve decided to start toying with the ISO and Shutter Speed on my Nikon D5100 to see what cool things I can do. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to do this because  I’ve believed that photography is about capturing the moment exactly the way it was. Now, I want to at least give photo enhancement a chance — and by “photo enhancement” I do not mean any editing or Photoshopping; I simply mean changing the camera settings (like ISO and Shutter Speed) to produce the best quality photo that captures the essence of a moment better as opposed to the mere documentation of a moment.

So on April 22 and 23, I played with fire photography and glow sticks photography, some of which are shown below. By changing the ISO and Shutter Speeds I was able to produce some very cool images. However, this is only the beginning for my exploration of these features. The images I took were basic — pretty much anyone with a camera can do things like this. My hope is that over the next month I can create unique images by playing with the camera settings.

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Mad Men S7E2 | Review

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Although I had my doubts last week about Mad Men‘s seventh season, I was not disappointed Sunday night with Episode 2. Everything about this episode was perfect. From the writing to the acting, it was flawless. This is the level of brilliance I have come to expect of Mad Men. Everyone always compares Breaking Bad and The Sopranos and Girls to Mad Men, but Mad Men is just on a whole other level that no other show has ever — and maybe will ever — reach. This might be an overstatement, but I truly feel that Mad Men will go down in the books as a perfect show. Although we can knit-pick and find small flaws from episode to episode, the story told will be brilliant — on a level never reached before.

However, the best part of this episode for me was Sally. Sally has always been an intriguing character to me, someone I looked forward to seeing, but this episode sealed the deal: Sally is my favorite character. The lives of the other characters are just their lives; we know how that generation lived and we know how they died, their legacy is set. Sally is of my parent’s generation. At least in my mind, that generation doesn’t have a cohesive identity, and their legacy is still to be determined. So, what happens with Sally will say a lot about what that generation stands for. I am excited to see what the writers do with her character in the resolution of their story.

Even though Sally is the wild card in the show, everything else that happened in this episode was just as wonderful. Joan moving offices, Dawn being promoted to Head of Personnel, Don getting dressed just for Dawn to deliver papers, Peggy and Shirley fighting over the flowers, Roger and Jim’s elevator ride — I mean everything was simply ingenious.

Most importantly, though, was the racial theme that FINALLY came out in this episode. I’ve bemoaned the lack of racial tension in Mad Men since its inception. I’ve been able to justify the lack of it by arguing that the kinds of people Mad Men follows through the show were probably pretty unaware of the on-goings of the civil rights movement. The only times I can recall the subject even coming up in past episodes were when Abe Drexler refused to tell the police the race of his attacker, when Abe forced Peggy to live in an “up and coming” neighborhood, and when we saw a few brief clips of Dawn meeting her engaged friend at a diner. This episode was the one that broke the mold — Cooper’s blatant racism leading to the promotion of a black woman finally broached the subject in a meaningful way. I hope to see more of this topic throughout the season as it was arguably the defining movement of the decade.

As I’ve said before, everything in this episode was simply ingenious. That’s all there really is to say about it.

Food for Thought – The Coolest New Environmental Technology

Have you ever wondered why there is an Earth Day? It seems a bit silly to me as everyday is Earth Day; we should always be aware of how our actions impact the Earth. Every major “news” outlet has had a story today asking viewers and readers “What are you going to do today to help the Earth?” What about tomorrow? Or next week? Next year? Is using a reusable grocery store bag really enough to make a difference? Have you ever thought about trying something that would significantly alter your current lifestyle? This day, in my mind, is a day that underscores the hypocrisy and ignorance of the world in regards to the environment.

But enough of that cynicism; what are some of the coolest things that people are doing around the world to help the environment long-term? Here are just a handful:

Futuristic Abu Dhabi Park to be built in the desert shade

Affordable Solar Paint

Turning Algae (or just about anything) into crude oil

Glowing trees replacing streetlights – Even though I don’t approve of genetic manipulation in most cases across most disciplines, there are some examples (like this) that might just be a solution that doesn’t mess up the entire ecosystem. However, “playing God” means that we will never be able to fully understand the ramifications of genetic modification when we do it.

Fertilizing the ocean with Iron – This is super cool. Absolutely brilliant.

I hope this stimulates you on this Earth Day 2014 and gets you thinking about the vast number of ramifications that each action you take has on the world we live in.

 

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend is upon us. Chocolate bunnies, eggs, coins, and all are flying from store shells as I write. Tomorrow morning the sun will rise, we will head to church, and subsequently eat a big ol’ ham with a side of mashed potatoes. Now, although I sometimes find the traditions of Christian holidays to be absurd, Easter happens to be my favorite holiday. While it is technically the celebration of Christ rising from the dead, it is also the celebration of Spring. (Spring just also happens to be the celebration of life renewed). And as anyone who follows my blog knows, I absolutely love Spring. It is my favorite season, which is why Easter is my favorite holiday. The sun is out, the grass is growing, the flowers and budding, and everyone is happy to see the snow gone. Plus, you get an excuse to wear a ridiculously colorful dress that truly is only appropriate on Easter. The energy on Easter is vibrant and bright; there’s just simply no reason to be in a bad mood.

So, what did I do for Easter Weekend 2014? I did exactly this:

I spent Good Friday celebrating my salvation with a giant Nor’easter Ice Cream at Red’s with Abby. Surprisingly, Slugger also decided to make an appearance.

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And we can’t forget about baby John either — although he didn’t enjoy the delights of Red’s ice cream just yet.

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IMG_2758And of course, hours were spent singing the karaoke version of For the First Time in Forever from Disney’s Frozen.

Holy Saturday was spent sunbathing on the deck, babysitting, eating delicious food at David’s 388, and seeing Young Frankenstein at Lyric Music Theater. I even heard the Ice Cream Truck for the first time this season.

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Classic photo of food apparently necessary for any blog…

And finally, Easter Sunday itself was spent merrily. From watching the sunrise, to church, to egg hunts, to ham, and to naps, I couldn’t have pictured a better day for celebration.

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At this year’s closure of my favorite holiday, I would say it was the best Easter yet. It truly was a grand celebration of Spring. Can’t wait to see what next year has in store!

Homelessness in Portland, Maine | A Documentary

For my senior project in high school I created a 22-minute documentary on homelessness in Portland, Maine. I filmed everything entirely on a Nikon D5100. To get the material I needed, I simply walked around the streets of Portland looking for panhandlers. When I met one, I would ask them if they were willing to answer a few questions about homelessness on camera. While most people I asked were not comfortable being recorded, they were all very willing to talk to me about their experiences. Ultimately, out of the 16 people I talked to during the ten days of filming, only 6 allowed me to film them.

Among the questions I ask are: How did you become homeless? Do you have any dreams or aspirations? What is your view on how the government handles homelessness and poverty? How do you feel about the legalization of marijuana? What is like to stay in Portland’s homeless shelters?

I filmed all of these interviews between May 6-15, 2013. The link to watch the documentary, which has been broken up into two parts, is below:

Homelessness in Portland: A Documentary | Part 1 of 2

Barcelona, Spain

We landed in the Barcelona Airport on March 15 at 8:30PM, barely knowing what our next move was. All we knew is we were supposed to be sailing a 50′ Catamaran from Palma de Mallorca, Spain to Faro, Portugal and it was going to take five weeks. We knew that the boat was not seaworthy and so, three days after our arrival in Port d’Andratx, we flew from Palma to Barcelona with no money and no way to contact our families back in the states. Most importantly though, we knew we didn’t care that we had no plan, and we knew everything was going to work out just fine.

Our faces as we left Club de Vela and drove to the Palma airport.

Our faces as we left Club de Vela and drove to the Palma airport.

Arriving in Barcelona we knew two things: the address of the Youth Hostel where we were spending the night and that I had to see La Sagrada Familia or I would not be satisfied. Beyond those two things, anything and everything was fair game. I was remarkably calm considering this was my first time traveling in Europe. Perhaps this was because Barcelona had been my dream destination since I was twelve years old and the Cheetah Girls 2 had taken place there. Perhaps this is because in the face of true uncertainty, I can step up to the plate. Either way, I felt that the stars were aligning for the first time since we had flown out of Boston.

As we drove in the backseat of the taxi to Center Rambles Youth Hostel, the city was alive. It was a Saturday night, and — for the Spanish — it was still very early in the evening. People were everywhere, lights lit up the skinny streets of the Gothic Center in every direction you looked, and the energy of the city just felt free. In Spain, everything is manana. The people don’t seem to let small things bother them as much as we do in America — and you could feel that right away.

Arriving at the hostel, the guy at the desk was evidently stoned. His dirty-blond hair was flying in every direction, his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, and his eyes were bloodshot and glazed. He spoke English fairly well it seemed, but every reaction was delayed; you could see the effort he had to put into paying attention to our words and his work.

 

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The front of our hostel.

Dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs, our room wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. It was at the end of the hall, so remarkably quiet. It was meant to house 8 travelers, but only two other people were staying with us, a brother and a sister from Brazil. They spoke almost no English, and we almost never saw them except when we left the room in the mornings. We still wouldn’t dare use the bathrooms, though.

Luckily, the hostel which had claimed to be “very central,” really was right smack in the center of Barcelona. It was one block off from Las Ramblas, a 10-minute walk from Barceloneta Beach, a 30-minute walk to La Sagrada Familia, and a 30-minute walk from the National Palace. Everything was within walking distance, which was perfect because there’s no better way to see a city than to wander through it. Also luckily, the hostel had free Wi-Fi, which was immensely helpful as it was the only way to contact our families. After Facebook messaging them all night, we worked out that we would move our flight up to the following Friday, March 21. It cost way too much money, but there was no way we could survive for 5 weeks in Europe with the money we had.

So, Sunday morning we got up with the sun and headed out into the city streets. We knew we wanted to get to La Sagrada Familia, but none of the tourist maps were of any use as they didn’t show nearly all of the city streets. So, we went wandering in the direction of the sun in search of the masterpiece. Along the way we discovered a majestic fountain.

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That’s one of the best parts of Europe; everywhere you turn there are monuments, statues, churches, and fountains that aren’t even of any remarkable value to tourists — they’re complete throw aways, but in any American city they would be the most prominent tourist attraction. This was by far the most beautiful fountain I’ve ever seen, and moreover it was by far the most impressive “throw-away” that Asa and I had the privilege of encountering while we were lost in Barcelona.

Another benefit of letting yourself get lost in a city is seeing all of the tiny pieces that give a city it’s own culture. From street art, to crossing the streets through marathon runners, and the city’s wildlife — it all creates the story of the city.

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“If I weren’t a tree, I would kiss you right now”

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Neon green parrots that terrorized pigeons and small children alike.

Wild orange trees could be found throughout the Park. They were not very tasty, however.

Wild orange trees could be found throughout the Park. They were not very tasty, however.

This section of the city evoked a sense of Paris. All of these buildings and streets were new — meaning the 18th century. The streets were wide, the sidewalks clean, and the architecture was grand, godly, and detailed. After much wandering, we finally found the highlight of our trip — La Sagrada Familia.

La Sagrada Familia is a building truly unlike any other. I would go as far to say that is the most beautiful building in the world. Designed by Gaudi, who I’m certain part of my soul once belonged to, the entire premise of the design was to evoke nature because the forest was the first church. Inside the Basilica are beams, high as a skyscraper, that instantly conjure images of trees. The ceiling is covered in shapes that are meant to be the leaves in the forest’s canopy, although I thought they were meant to be stars. Either way, the effect is the same.

The first thing you see when entering the Basilica.

The first thing you see when entering the Basilica.

 

A good example of the canopy effect.

A good example of the canopy effect.

In this picture, you can get a sense of the enormous scale of these tree-like pillars.

In this picture, you can get a sense of the enormous scale of these tree-like pillars.

As you can see, Gaudi left no detail out; he even added what are supposed to be knots on a tree about halfway up each pillar. However, the most incredible part of the entire design are undeniably the stained glass windows.

 

The sole purpose of the glass is to create the perfect color, emulating the ambiance of light trickling through a forest.

The sole purpose of the glass is to create the perfect color, emulating the ambiance of light trickling through a forest.

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My personal favorite photo of the glass.

My personal favorite photo of the glass.

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The stained glass had no images in it like at a traditional Cathedral, only blocks of color to create the perfect lighting. In fact, the entire Basilica contained almost no images. The only images were of Christ on the cross and the four symbols of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

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The outside of the church holds all the imagery. The backside displays the Nativity Facade, which is a very intricate design, more like what we have to come to expect of Cathedrals.

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The Tree of Life, which is an element incorporated into all Gaudi designs.

The Tree of Life, which is an element incorporated into all Gaudi designs.

I could write an entire novel on what it was like to be inside the glorious Cathedral, and I could write another book on Gaudi’s creative process in designing it. What I will say here, however, is that being inside this building was like no experience that I’ve ever had. Asa and I sat silently inside the Basilica for 2 full hours. I found myself in a trance, mesmerized by the colorful light and columns that soared upwards. This Cathedral, although designated as Roman Catholic, is a sanctuary for a pantheist like myself. Christians everywhere have always struggled to balance the fine line between monotheism and pantheism that the religion promotes. God is one, but God is everywhere and is everything. Gaudi’s design underscores this dilemma. As someone who goes to church, was raised Lutheran, but considers herself pantheist in her actual ideology — I found La Sagrada Familia to be the perfect sanctuary. It was beautiful, it made me cry, you could hear the heavens silently ringing in it’s forest of stone. I still firmly believe that I could have sat in the Basilica for all eternity without experiencing boredom, hunger, thirst, or any want whatsoever. Although the unintelligent and insensitive alike will never be able to truly appreciate and understand the beauty and experience which is this building, it is a sight worth seeing for everyone. Just try and remember that you’re in a sacred place and that you shouldn’t be bickering with your family as you walk through it.

Another highlight of our Barcelonian adventure was our night at Bar Pastis. A hole-in-the-wall bar in Barcelona is a place that my soul feels completely at home. Absinth is on tap, the walls are covered head to toe in comics, paintings, newspapers, sculptures, and any old thing you could imagine. The whole bar is about the size of my dining room, which is about 200 square feet. When we arrived, the place was dead. We thought that at 9:30PM the Spanish would be at the bars already, but we were wrong. We sat drinking with the owner and bartender, who spoke no English, and watched futbol on the small television hanging high up on the wall — practically the ceiling. About an hour later, all at once a hoard of probably 20 people flooded into the tiny room. All of a sudden the place breathed. At first, I was uncomfortable with this. It felt sacrilege to the place — a place that I felt was only for the burdened souls of artists. It only took me about 15 minutes to get over this feeling. The energy of the place was refreshing, it was the only real cultural experience we had while in Barcelona. No one spoke English and everyone was there to see a concert of accordion and guitar, which was indeed magical.

Bar Pastis – Barcelona – Click for video of Musicians playing

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After this truly mesmerizing performance, lots of lively conversation with the musicians and audience alike, and a few too many Cuba Libres, we headed back to the hotel. (Yes, we only stayed 3 nights in the hostel and then moved to Hotel Ramblas down the street for the last 3 nights. It was well worth it.)

The last major highlight of our time in Barcelona, at least for me personally, was going to see Park Guell. We had quite the adventure just getting there; we were confused about the stop we had to take on the metro, thinking we had to get off at the end of the line. We found ourselves in Trinitat Nova, wandering aimlessly up the hills trying to find the park. This neighborhood did not seem tourist-friendly and most people seemed to live in poverty. It was slightly nerve-wracking because we didn’t know where we were, we had no way to figure out where we were going, and no one spoke English. However, it was a refreshing experience to get to see a truer side to Barcelona. Eventually a nice woman pulled up a translator app on her phone to help us find our way.

Finally we came to the right metro stop. Still though, we could not find the Park for our lives. We knew we were only 1.3km from the Park, but we wandered for an hour unable to find it. So, we stopped in a hotel to get lunch and then took a taxi the 1.3km to the Park. I have to say it was worth it. As I mentioned earlier, Barcelona had been the city of my dreams since The Cheetah Girls 2 aired in 2006. This park is where one of the most iconic scenes in the film was shot, so it was the fulfillment of my Cheetah Girl dreams to see it. Beyond my childhood fantasies, though, the park was also designed by Gaudi, who has become one of my favorite people in history since this trip. The buildings in the park looked like gingerbread houses and it was practically a maze through it all. Every pathway you walked under could also be walked over, if you could find your way there. The park expanded far into the mountains beyond what Gaudi had designed, and every turn you took looked almost identical to the last. It was an adventure just walking around. Street vendors line every pathway, as do bubble-blowers, magicians, and musicians. Every moment was full of the joy of a new surprise.

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Ultimately, getting to know the city of Barcelona was not hard. We spent 5 days wandering the city streets, which is the best way to get to know any place. In fact, the best way to get to know a place is not to plan your trip before you get there; you have to go with the flow, get lost in the streets, mingle with locals from all walks of life. In short, you have to see every side of the city, and you must be open to having adventures.

Some more of my personal highlights:

The parks on the Eastern side of the city.

The parks on the Eastern side of the city.

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A must-see: The indoor markets. I spent hours wandering through this market, purely delighted by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and scents.

A must-see: The indoor markets. I spent hours wandering through this market, purely delighted by all the sights, sounds, tastes, and scents.

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The best butter I’ve ever had.

From Castell Montjuic and from the hills of Nova Trinitat are the most spectacular views of the city.

From Castell Montjuic and from the hills of Trinitat Nova are the most spectacular views of the city.

April Showers, and Showers, and Showers — How the increase in Spring rainfall affects our environment.

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You know “they” say, “April showers bring May flowers.” Yet, every year I find myself eternally disappointed by the mist, rain, and damp ground. Spring is my favorite season, so when the temperature heads upward into the 50s, 60s, and even the rare 70s, I put on my shorts enthusiastically and head out into the world. Then, after the few days of heat and sun, the temperature inevitably drops into the 30s and 40s and the rain comes pouring down for weeks on end. What a tease! But moreover, what do the unending weeks of rain show about our ever-changing climate?

Yes, the saying “April showers bring May flowers” is an old wives’ phrase. However, a “shower” is literally “a brief fall of rain.” The rain we now get in April, which has ostensibly increased over the past decade, is now weeks of unceasing rain. So, I went to the NOAA website and found the amount of rainfall in April in Portland, Maine from 1883-2010. To find this information, click here. Based on this data, the average rainfall during April in Portland, Maine throughout the last 29 years of the 19th century was 2.91 inches. During the 20th century, the average rainfall was 3.8 inches — almost a full inch more of rain. Finally, from just 2000-2010, the average rainfall was 4.68 inches — again almost a full inch more of rain than the previous century during the month of April in Portland, Maine. We’re only just at the beginning of the 21st century and we’re already averaging nearly a full inch more of rain than we did during the 20th century. This raises a few questions.

The first question to address is: Why is this happening? The obvious answer is climate change, but that’s too simple. I wanted to know exactly how climate change was increasing rainfall. The answer to this question is actually one of the simplest things to understand about global warming. With the increase of carbon remaining trapped in the atmosphere, global temperatures are increasing; that much is obvious. However, the warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture can be held in it. In fact, about 4% more moisture can be held in the atmosphere for every degree Fahrenheit that the temperature increases. So, when it rains, there is more water vapor available in the atmosphere to fall down, meaning more intense storms.

The more important and complicated question, though, is: What does this mean for our environment and lives? Although I would love to explore each ramification of increased rainfall in-depth, this post is meant to illuminate issues for further research rather than explain each one away. Some concerns that arise because of the increased rainfall are increased flooding as well as increased droughts. Increased flooding is an obvious concern; with heavier, longer-lasting storms, flooding is likely to become a more common issue. Droughts, however, may also increase in severity and frequency. This is because of the warming atmosphere that we pointed out earlier. Rain only falls when the atmospheric temperature and pressure drops. So, if the atmosphere is warmer for longer, then it follows that rain would fall less frequently, causing droughts. Yet, the most pressing concern caused by increased rainfall is ruined crops. America produces far more food than we need — which is ironic because so many are hungry and food insecure, but that’s another issue — so, we don’t need to worry about not having enough food in our grocery stores. BUT failing crops lead to bankrupt farmers, and bankrupt farmers lead to increased government subsidies. Now, there are lots of things to be said about why increased government subsidies are detrimental to the environment, but the main thing is that the government is subsidizing the wrong crops, the monocultures. Monocultures are one of the most prominent polluters in the agricultural sector, which itself is the biggest single source of pollution in America. So, not only do increased government subsidies mean higher taxes for you, but also that we’re stuck in a feedback loop of carbon in the atmosphere –> increased rainfall –> more government subsidies –> repeat. This feedback loop only makes the situation perpetually worse.

So, we’ve come to the final question: What can we do about it? Well, the answer involves many parts and needs many, many, many hands to make any difference. Moreover, the answer is pretty much the same as the answer to solving every environmental problem facing humanity. First, EAT LOCALLY. Eating from local farmers and vendors shortens the chain of distribution which cuts down on carbon pollution.  Second, EAT ORGANIC. Eating organically forces the government to see that subsidizing pesticide, insecticide, fungicide full monoculture farms is NOT what the public wants or needs anymore. It also means you’re supporting farms that don’t feed into the loop of pollution because they aren’t part of the problem. Third, DO ANYTHING TO CUT DOWN ON CARBON IN THE ATMOSPHERE. Although the first two solutions are more specific to the problem of failing crops, any way that you can cut down on producing carbon means that there will be less rainfall in the first place, thereby treating the cause, not the symptoms. Like I said, this is basically the answer to all environmental issues. And like I said, it takes everyone acting to even have a hope of reversing the trend of climate change. BUT it’s still important to do your part and try your best.

“April showers bring May flowers,” like every old wives’ saying, is adopting a new meaning in the 21st century because of the growing force of climate change and global warming. Who knew the rain, fog, and mist outside my window was so directly related to our lifestyle habits? What will you do to help our environment today?

 

Mad Men: S7E1 | Review

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Although I had hoped for something more from Mad Men‘s final season premiere, it did not completely let the viewer down. Firstly, we all would have appreciated a 2-hour premiere to get the ball rolling — which I think could have remedied my next point, which is that this episode was nothing special. It seemed just like any old episode of Mad Men, a middle-of-the-season episode if you will. Partially the writers were forced into making the premiere like this because the Season 6 finale left lots of plot points to be explained, and consequently the writers were playing a game of catch-up.

However, playing catch-up is no excuse for writing the same story lines over and over. For example, nothing happens to Peggy in this episode. She’s creatively frustrated — what else is new? Then there’s Joan. Now, Joan must be my favorite female character in Mad Men, but the way her character pursues her goals has always been somewhat passive, which was exemplified once again in this episode in her hunt for Butler Shoes. And what about Megan or Roger? What about Don, whose life is falling apart — again. For all of these characters, it was the same old, same 0ld. Will we see something new for them in the coming season? I can’t be sure from this premiere, although I have the utmost faith that the writers will make something of each of them. However, this episode did not set the tone that I hoped it would have for character development.

Though, even admitting that Roger is once again portrayed as a hedonist and nothing more, I particularly enjoyed all of his scenes in this episode. In fact, I thought that they were fantastic. He is now for all intents and purposes living in some girl’s apartment, where anyone and anything is welcome. These scenes there are wonderful as his eyes look particularly vacant; he just doesn’t care anymore, he doesn’t know how. This is highlighted during his Sunday brunch with Margaret, where he continues trying to throw money at the problem. He doesn’t know how to love, live, or exist. He just goes through the motions, oblivious to the consequences until they’ve caught up with him. Despite this storyline being Roger’s perpetual storyline, I will never stop loving his character. He’s entertaining, and I believe an accurate depiction of many business men during this time period. Moreover, John Slattery is a brilliant actor and brings Roger Sterling to life in a way that many could not.

Pete Campbell was also a joy to see in this premiere. His character is going places — and you can tell. Pete Campbell is the master of the small game; he quickly figures out exactly how to fit in, gain power, and get what he wants in every situation. This is proven to be true when we see how well acclimated to California he is — or, at least, how well acclimated Pete Campbell ever can be. I had doubts as to whether his character would assimilate, but he did it. He knows the local slang at the restaurant, dresses like a true-Californian, and even wants to enjoy every moment of his life. His antithesis is embodied in Ted, who never goes outside and constantly works. He was the one in Season 6 who chose to go to California to fix his marriage, so I would have thought he would have tried vehemently to embrace the Pacific lifestyle. Yet, he didn’t. So, does this forebode a continued romance between himself and Peggy? Only time will tell. Either way, I am excited to see just what this season has in store for both Ted and Pete.

Last, but certainly not least, Don Draper. Although his character is following the same old patterns, I was pleased with him in this first episode. It was not all that I had hoped for; I had wished for a tidbit more drama and an explanation of what happened with his children when he took them to Pennsylvania, but that can certainly be left for future episodes. What I liked most about Don in this episode was that you could really see him struggling to be out of work, out of stimulation. This is emphasized in his bi-coastal lifestyle. He continues to travel back and forth in search of something, but he can never find a place for himself in either life. In California, he is unwanted by Megan — sleeping on the couch one night and begrudgingly in the bed the next. He also buys her a TV, hoping that this would not only please her, but bring back something of their old life together. However, this angers her as he just doesn’t understand what it’s like to live without money, illustrating how he thinks money can buy happiness. Back in New York, the writers really hit their point over the head. When Don’s balcony door won’t shut, it is apparent that he is stuck between two worlds. Literally, he’s stuck between the outside and inside because the door won’t shut. He’s also stuck between the worlds of New York and California. However, the more important note is that he’s stuck between who he was raised as and who he made himself into; he’s stuck in his own lies and impulses. So, although the writers make this point quite blatant, I think it was an important point to make in the season premiere because this final season will necessarily resolve that tension somehow.

Overall, I think this season shows promise. Certainly, this episode could have done more with the characters and brought us a little more drama and intrigue, but it sets the tone for the season clearly. This season is about Don and how his life will resolve itself. The rest of the characters that we know and love, while developing somewhat further, will mostly be left to the wayside. I hope beyond hope that this final season of Mad Men closes brilliantly, and from this premiere I think the potential is there to do just that.

Summer Sun Breaks Through

Friday and Saturday found themselves hitting 70 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a major improvement from the polar vortex which we’ve become used to this winter in Maine. My recent posts have all been about how the weather is changing to a seasonally appropriate temperature, which can seem quite mundane. However, it is all more than exciting to me; the free feeling of your body when you put on shorts and tank top, the glory of sitting and soaking up the sun with a book in your hand, and the splendid pleasure of leaving the door open during the day and a window cracked overnight, it’s all quite exhilarating throughout the first few weeks of the heat. It reminds you that the outside world is not a place to be feared, a place to be braced against, but a place to love, a place to immerse oneself, grateful for its sublimity.

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In honor of this occasion, I began reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

Of course, Remi and Peanut are just as excited as I am to warm their fur and stretch their legs again.

Of course, Remi and Peanut are just as excited as I am to warm their fur and stretch their legs again.

The rest of the weekend was spent outside as well — chasing Graydon and Eevie around parks, playgrounds, and beaches; as well as tossing the frisbee and haunting old stomping grounds with Asa.

Eevie takes her first plunge down the slide!

Eevie takes her first plunge down the slide!

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Graydon is up to bat.

Graydon is up to bat.

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The Western Prom

The Western Prom

Overall, a great weekend. Now, tonight we look forward to the final season premiere of Mad Men!