Friday, July 26, 2013

AmeriTrip: Washingtimoria

Washington D.C. will forever hold a special place in my life. Not only is it our nation's capital, it was also my birthplace and home for the first 5 years of my life. Any time that I get an opportunity to visit not only the city but the people that I still know there, it's a special moment and time.With our road trip taking us right through the nation's capital, I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to stop and visit!

After leaving Columbia, SC on Tuesday, Cathy and I headed back on the road for the 7 hour journey to DC. The drive itself really wasn't as bad as anticipated and we didn't really hit traffic until we got to DC. Granted the traffic we did encounter was fairly tame compared to what it could've been. We were able to successfully find our hostel, got checked in, and then jumped on the metro to start our exploration of this grand city.

We took the metro down to the National Mall and walked around for about 3 1/2 hours, taking in as much of the city as we could. The Washington Monument is currently under construction due to the effects of the earthquake that hit Virginia in 2011, so we weren't able to go up into that. However, I personally think that the scaffolding adds a bit to the monument, especially when it's lit up at night. Abraham Lincoln was visited and his famous speeches were reread. The Korean War, Marin Luther King, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson Memorials were also visited and checked off our list. We ended the night by taking in the White House while listening to some teenagers discuss the making of the movie "White House Down" and how amazed they were that the White House was still in tact.

The next day, we boarded the metro bright and early and continued our assault. The Vietnam War Memorial, National Holocaust Memorial Museum, Natural History Museum, and Air and Space Museum were all visited, absorbed, and appreciated by noon. We then headed back to our hostel to go and meet up with my former babysitter, Rosa, and her family for lunch. It was so great to see her, Maria, Jose, Stewart and the new family additions (Jose's wife Sylvia and their baby girl Isabelle). I haven't seen them since I was in high school, so the catch-up time was definitely appreciated and welcomed. Rosa made empanadas, which were delicious as always! Following lunch, Cathy and I headed back to see Arlington National Cemetery, Ford's Theater, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. By the time we got back to our hostel, we were both beat and passed out immediately!

Thursday, we departed from DC with Pennsylvania as our final destination! Along the way, we made a few pit stops - one in Baltimore, MD and the other in Philadelphia, PA. These stops were filled with scenic overlooks, historic sites, and one hilarious encounter at a souvenir shop...

One of the things that I collect whenever I travel is shot glasses. I have over 40 shot glasses from all over the world. Of course, this trip is no different. While in Philadelphia, we stopped at a souvenir shop so I could purchase my Philadelphia addition. While checking out, the following conversation occurred:

Worker (who happens to be Chinese): Are you Asian?
Worker: Are you sure? You eyes look Asian - maybe Chinese?
Me: Nope - pretty sure that I'm German and not any bit Asian
Worker: think you Chinese once
Me: Well I'm not quite sure how to take that, but I'm definitely a descendant from Europe.

This conversation continued on for another 15 minutes, in which she offered Cathy and I about 10 maps of Philly, suggestions of what to see (including the lady that sewed the flag's house), where to get the best Philly Cheese Steak in town, directions on how to get to the Rocky Steps and Statue, an attempt to get me to purchase a Rocky shirt, and other things. All I wanted was a shot glass - I ended up with a whole lot more!

Now this story is especially funny because this year I helped put together the yearbook for our AmeriCorps year. One of the things that we asked the members to send in was baby pictures. The baby picture that I submitted is below:

As you can see, I was not only a bit of a clunker as a child, but I also had some Asian similarities (I blame the hat). Phetsada, the only true Asian in our group this past year, loved this picture and assured me that people would think that this was her. At our informal graduation, that theory was proven true as almost all of our members thought this was her baby picture. Needless to say there were a few shocked faces when it turned out to actually be me! So the fact that 26 years later I'm still being asked if I'm Asian or not makes me wonder if this picture has somehow gotten out and about!

We ended up making it Easton, PA around 5:30 and went and saw one of Cathy's friends, Annie. She treated us out to tacos and ice cream. I'm excited to meet family and friends of Cathy's and see where she grew up. We'll be in PA for a week, which will also be a nice break from the constant road time. Who really knows what the course of the next week will hold for us! Stay tuned and find out!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

AmeriTrip: Pepperidge Farms Remembers

Everyone has those friendships that end up lasting no matter what. You could go years without physically seeing each other, but once you are reunited, it’s like things have never changed. I have one of those types of relationships with Elizabeth. No matter where we end up in life, we’ll always be able to just pick things up from where we last left things off. I’ve been super lucky that I’ve gotten to see her multiple times over the past year few months (St. Patrick’s Day and Savannah) and can now add another visit to the list – Columbia, SC.

Elizabeth is currently in grad school at the University of South Carolina, pursuing a master’s degree in the geology field so that she can make the big bucks someday. This provided Cathy and I with the perfect opportunity to stop by and visit for a few days as we continue on our way up to PA! It was awesome as always to see her and meet some of the new people that she’s met during her time in SC.

We rolled into Columbia Sunday night and were immediately treated to a feast of hot dogs, mac ‘n cheese, and grilled peppers. Her friends JD, Matthew, Lee, and Trenton, along with her cousin Cara who was visiting for a few days also joined us in for this fun. Following our scrumptious dinner, we partook in the card game Pegleg and a game of Intense Charades, which definitely lived up to its name. All of this intense activity definitely wore us out, but not before taking a late night dip in the pool at Elizabeth’s apartment complex.

The next day (Monday), Cara, Elizabeth, Cathy, and I headed to the USC campus, where Elizabeth gave us a quick, abbreviated tour of her new home. We then headed out to the Riverbank Zoo and took in the sights and sounds that this enjoyable animal sanctuary had to offer. We saw lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), among many other animal types. It was a bit of an extension from our Disney safari, with a few added bonuses. 

Following the zoo, we headed to Maurice’s BBQ Joint for some southern style BBQ. It definitely did not disappoint! We made a quick stop at the USC football stadium before Elizabeth had to run Cara to the airport. Cathy and I headed back to Elizabeth’s apartment, where I promptly took a 4 hour nap while Cathy entertained herself with a plethora of movies.

Once Elizabeth returned from the airport, we headed out to grab some pizza and drinks with JD, Lee, and Justin (a friend of Elizabeth’s former roommate Victoria). These guys had participated in trivia at Village Idiot (the name of the restaurant) and had won! As a prize, they had $30 to spend at the establishment. As an added bonus, it was BOGO night, so two large pizzas and 5 beers later, our total cost was $5 – my kind of deal! 

Once we finished our pizza, we headed up the road to The Publick House, where Lee, Cathy, Elizabeth, and I took part in our own game of trivia. Our team name, Pepperidge Farms Remembers, was a hit with the announcer and obviously brought us a bit of luck, as we finished in second place amongst about 15 teams! Our reward was a $20 gift certificate that Elizabeth will have the pleasure of using in the near future.

After a pleasant visit, albeit way too short, it’s time to hit the road again! Next stop is Washington D.C., where Cathy and I will take in the national monuments, museums, and pay a visit to my old babysitter, Rosa. Can’t wait to tear up the nation’s capital!

Monday, July 22, 2013

AmeriTrip: I Got The Red Badge!!

Road trips are some of the most amazing things that anyone can ever do! Being able to explore new areas with great people is always a highlight of my summer. Anytime that I can take part in one of these epic journeys, I find it really hard to say no. This summer is one of those examples.

Cathy and I are embarking on a three week trip that will take us through 7 states with the ultimate destination being Pennsylvania. We embarked on this craziness Friday with our first stop being the most magical place on this planet: Disney World!

Cathy’s friend, Chris, was once again a gracious host and not only provided us with lodging, but also free entry into the parks. So, on Saturday, Cathy and I spent 14 glorious hours soaking in as much Disney magic as we possibly could. I’m pretty sure that we were successful in this endeavor!

Our day started at the Animal Kingdom, were we dominated the DinoLand amusement rides (including back-to-back ventures on the spinny roller coaster one), conquered Everest Expedition, became giddy along with the cast of the Lion King show, took a ride through the African Safari, and got wet on the Kali Rapids in the heart of Asia.

It was at Animal Kingdom that I became a bit obsessed with the red badge. This badge is used to help determine wait time in lines for the amusement rides. When we got on the Everest Expedition ride, the patron in front of me received the honor of wearing and then presenting said badge to the person at the end of the ride. This red badge haunted me all day, as park-goers all around me showed off their prizes, much to my displeasure. More on the badge in a bit…

Once we had hooped and hollered all that we could at Animal Kingdom, we made our way over to Hollywood Studios. Here, we braved a death-defying ride on the Tower of Terror, grooved along with Aerosmith on the Rock ‘N Roller Coaster, enjoyed some classic movies on The Great Movie Ride, and racked up points with Woody and Buzz at the Toy Story Mania 4-D attraction. 2 hour wait times diminished around us as we powered through all of these attractions in about 2 ½ hours!

The last stop of the day took us over to the Magic Kingdom. A littler rain couldn’t ruin our enjoyment of this staple of Disney World. We blasted off on Space Mountain, drifted our way down Splash Mountain, chugged along the Big Thunder Mountain, and conjured up some spirits and ghosts at the Haunted Mansion. Now it was also here that my night was truly made…

As we were getting into line at Splash Mountain, the attendant at the front was holding one of the coveted red badges, just waiting to present it to a lucky ride goer. By this point, we had met up with two others, Amanda (a friend of Chris’s) and her friend Alex. The attendant handed the badge to Alex, who promptly passed it off to me! My mission and day were complete. Some people go to Disney to see Mickey, Tinkerbell, or Goofy. Me, I go to get a red badge! In my state of euphoria, I accidentally forgot to turn it in – looks like I have a keepsake forever and the new wait time at Splash Mountain just went up to about 8 days!

The night was capped off by a sparkling and breathtaking fireworks display with Cinderella’s Castle as the centerpiece. We braved the throngs of people exiting the park, had a late night dinner at Steak n’ Shake (no worries Erin – Cathy finally had her milkshake!), and then passed out back at Chris’s. The next leg of the journey takes us to Columbia, South Carolina to see Elizabeth and her roommate Victoria. Can’t wait to see what fun and excitement await us there!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Throwback Post: Winter in Paradise

*Throwback Post #19*

Having grown up in Iowa, November through February were always dreaded. Yes, many of our favorite holidays occur during this time period. But these months also brought the following: snow, ice, and wicked winds. These combinations resulted in the below:

Having endured this winter wonderland for 20 years or so has lead me to despise snow and the cold. Trudging through six foot snow drifts just to get to class during college is one experience that I will never forget nor want to relive again. This is one of the many reasons why being down in Florida at this time of year is definitely agreeing with me. In the past week, I've been outside in short sleeves and shorts. I was able to work on my tan Saturday afternoon by the pool, get my feet sandy down at the beach, and enjoy a nice 6 mile run Sunday morning - all without needing 6 layers of clothing, hats, gloves, and long johns. Life's pretty great right now here in South Florida.

Sending warm thoughts to my friends and family in the heart of the Midwest. May the above pictures keep you warm as you fight the bitter cold of winter!

Throwback Post: Face Paint, Bingo, and Books - MLK Day of Service

*Throwback Post #18*

Every year in January, a day is set aside to focus on serving the community and those around you. This day falls on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and is known as the MLK Day of Service (appropriate name, I know). Every year for MLK Day, AmeriCorps takes the opportunity to further help those in Palm Beach County by participating in an event in the community. This year, though, we decided to host our own event and create it from scratch.

Back in December, a small group of us from the Service Project group started brainstorming ideas for what we wanted to do for MLK Day. These meetings quickly translated into the fact that we wanted to run and create our own event and not piggyback off of another event already in place. The search for a venue to host this proved to be a bit of a challenge, as many of the organizations and schools were closed on MLK Day.

Despite these challenges, we were able to secure a place with a site that used to have an AmeriCorps volunteer at it called Bridges @ Highland Elementary. Bridges is an organization that works with the Hispanic and Creole population in Palm Beach County, providing them services and childcare throughout the day and after school. Luckily, Jaime (the director of Bridges) was super excited to have AmeriCorps back at Bridges and the opportunity to work with us again.

Finally, following multiple meetings, the gathering of materials, creating sample crafts, cutting until hands were sore and cramping, the day of the event arrived. All 40 of our members arrived at Bridges around 9:00, helped unload tables and chairs, and proceeded to set up the various stations and literacy activities that the committee had planned and put together. Lunch was assembled, crafts supplies were laid out, and water cups were filled as we anxiously awaited for kids and their families to show up.

One of the highlights of the day was the multiple games of literacy Bingo that were played. All of the kids and the families that played thoroughly enjoyed the game and the prizes that went out to the winners. We were able to give away school supply kits (provided by The Lord's Place), books about Martin Luther King, and even a soccer ball and basketball (courtesy of the Mandel Public Library). The other highlight was listening to one of our members, Jaron, do a read-aloud of three different books with the kids. The energy and enthusiasm that he implored into the reading of those books was great and really was a great way to end a successful day!

To end the event, we held a raffle, in which we gave away about 25 various raffle prizes, ranging from book bundles to a Super Bowl starter kit to school supplies and other helpful items for school and beyond. Before every child went home, they were also given a book to take with them. This brought plenty of smiles and joy to their little faces. All of the hard work that was put into the event was definitely worth it!
Minus the brief rain shower that drove a few of our members running to the cover of the pavilion we were using, the event went without a hitch. The kids and families that attended had a great time and the members were able to interact with a different set of students than they normally work with at their sites. Another successful service project in the books!

Throwback Post: A Wash of a Project

*Throwback Post #17*

The weather here in Florida can be pretty fickle - one minute it's sunny, the next it's pouring, then it clears up, the sun comes out and all's great!

This was the case last Saturday as we were scheduled to help out with a service project with an organization called Pathways to Prosperity. The day started out with a light drizzle and slight confusion among the members since we were really unaware of what our duties for the day were going to be. We were informed that the organizers were rounding up tents to put up so that those participating didn't get wet. Until those tents arrived (along with the tables, chairs, and other activities), we were in a holding pattern.

Upon the arrival of the tents and other equipment, half of our group headed out in to the dreariness and put up the tents, tables, chairs - and then waited. Waited for further instructions. Waited for people to show up. Waited for a break in the weather. None of those things ever came. After being outside for a couple of hours, the event was finally called. We were thanked for coming out and helped tear down. The tear down process was actually very comical because as we disassembled the tents and other equipment, a few of our members (myself included) were dumped on with standing water that had become collected in the tent tarps while they were standing. That little bit of entertainment made the being in the rain worth it - sort of.