Bioilluminescent Bay in Océano Pacífico

15 02 2019

After Becky flew home, we still had a few days left in Costa Rica. By that time, our native friend, Leo, had arrived to travel with us and answer a thousand questions I had developed over the previous seven days, about culture and language and landscape.

We decided to do one last excursion, booking a hotel for a night across the bay near the towns of Tambor and Montezuma. I had read about a beautiful waterfall there, and great snorkeling nearby.

The trip started off a lot more stressful than we expected. Given how sleepy the town of Puntarenas is, and Leo’s memories of riding the ferry as a child, we didn’t expect to see a line of cars wrapping blocks around the peninsula waiting to board the 9am ferry.

We did not make the 9am ferry. I don’t think we would have even made the 11am ferry. So, we shifted gears and rerouted to another ferry at 10am, which would take us about an hour’s drive further north from where we expected to land. We had no urgent time restrictions, and Bethany was game for more driving adventures, so we happily opted for this route!

After another hour waiting in the hot car, it came time to board the boat. Bethany had to drive the car on, and we weren’t sure if I was allowed to ride with her or not, so I got out and waited. There was an intimidating interaction with the angry ticket man yelling at Bethany in Spanish, until Leo came running back to bring the extra ticket he forgot to give her, and then we began our getaway.

Remember, Bethany was a Boat Grrrl before she became a Travel Grrrl, so, despite the stressful start, she climbed right to the top deck, face to the sun, and immediately relaxed on the ferry. It was about an hour-long ride, and I got to practice my español with Leo and his friend, Andres, while Andres polished up his own classroom inglés.

After we arrived at the dock across the bay, we disembarked and began the next leg of our journey. The roads were mostly dirt, and undergoing major construction. The drive south the Tambor Beach area was slow, pausing frequently to wait for massive earth moving equipment to finish scooping up what was left of the old road that they were replacing long stretches of. We arrived at our remote hotel, Castillo Resort, dusty, thirsty, and hoping for an early check-in.

Immediately I could tell that the woman who greeted us was not a native- her English was perfect- and she shared that she’s originally from Italy. She and her Tico sweetheart were continuously adding and improving their property, which featured just 7 modern guest rooms, delicious gallo pinto, and a gorgeous courtyard centered around a small pool. Compared to the other places we had stayed, it was a steal. It was clean and modern, and we only paid $106 (+13% tax) for our room. The best part, was that the couple also booked excursions, and by the time we had checked into our rooms, we already knew what our plans were.

We originally hoped to go to Isle Caños for snorkeling, but the excursion prices were a bit steep, and the timing was challenging, since we were only there for one night. Instead of squeezing in a trip the next day (with a generously late checkout offer by our hosts), we were surprised to learn about an evening excursion alternative.

“Night snorkeling,” they explained, “is unique to this area and this time of year.” I was intrigued. There is bioilluminescent algae that lights up with movement, which you can only see at night. Coincidentally, there happened to be a new moon the next day, so we should be able to see the stars really well, if nothing else.

So, although $50 seemed a little steep, even with free drinks, we negotiated that they bring a wine option for us non-cervesa drinkers, and went for it. None of us had ever done anything like this. In fact, Leo’s local friend shared that this would actually be his first time snorkeling at all! It seemed like a memorable experience to try out while we were there, and we all grew excited to see what was in store!

The trip did not disappoint!! We had no images or expectations in our heads, and, of course, Bethany was just happy to get on another boat. We drove down to the beach around 5pm and boarded a very small boat with another group of six Americans.

“Boarded” probably doesn’t do it justice. With heavy waves crashing in, they brought the boat as close as they could, standing about knee deep in water. Then, two strong men struggled to steady the back of the boat enough between waves to allow one or two people to jump on, shouting, “Go!GoGo!” each time it was safe for another brave passenger to board.

The trip started out with a tour up the river to see the unique habitat of the nearby mangroves. Our guides explained that the unique conditions of partially salt and partially fresh water create perfect conditions for all sorts of creatures, as we slowly puttered along, trying to spot some activity. When we turned around to return to the bay, there was a gorgeous vista of the sun setting behind the mountains.

We motored around to an empty stretch of beach, save for a couple of perros running up and down and barking excitedly to welcome the daily guests! We still had time to either swim or drink or just stare at the surroundings while we waited for it to get dark.

In the water, still reflecting the warm colors of dusk, we couldn’t yet see anything unusual. After a few minutes, however, several people were commenting about getting stung or bit by something. Then I felt it. It was tiny, whatever it was, but it was definitely real. I pulled off a tiny brown speck where the sting was felt. We tried asking the guides about it and they brushed it off. We started worrying that these uncomfortable creatures were just part of the experience. We later concluded that it was something like sea lice or sand fleas, and thankfully they seemed to disappear.

It finally came time for the show. We boarded the boat once more and drove out 20 meters from the shore. Once there, amid the inky darkness of the almost new moon, we could barely see to put on our snorkels, and I think we were all questioning what exactly we had paid for, while looking over the edge of the boat at nothing but darkness.

Ready to find out, I was the first to jump off the boat. As I emerged from my splash, I heard the rest of the party exclaiming, “Whoah! That was so cool!” I looked down and saw my hands slowly swooshing before me, completely surrounded by a cloud of glowing blue dots! I stopped moving, and they disappeared.

I dunked my face in the water and ferociously kicked my feet, in awe of the reactiveness of the microscopic creatures. At first, I was wondering if there were any glowing fish or anything more, but as I sat there, floating in the dark ocean, mesmerized by this natural phenomenon, I realized that this was completely enough. I looked up at the starry night sky, back down at the glowing ocean, and a rush of bliss came over me. It was like the stars of the ocean had come out to greet me.

When our time was up, I was the last one to get back in the boat. I didn’t want it to end. It was one of the most magical and memorable experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t even bother to try to photograph it, because it would have been impossible to capture. If I ever get the chance again, I will definitely take it.


Tico Immersion in Costa Rica

17 01 2019


“It’s a lot like the state of Indiana,” I’ve been telling co-workers about my recent trip to Costa Rica, “except there are volcanoes where Indianapolis is, and ocean where Illinois and Ohio are!” They laugh, and then I lean forward to share the real deal travel stories.

Costa Rica was selected because our dear friend, Leo, is from there. When I asked him about places he recommended to see, he threw his hands up with excitement and exclaimed, “It’s ALL so beautiful!” It landed on the short list of places we were considering for a nearby, warm weather getaway, and I thought it would be an American-style destination that would be comfortable enough for my mom to enjoy joining us on our trip. A bonus was being told that Leo’s family has a little casa in the hills that we could use as a home base! Knowing this, we decide to plan our trip around 1 or 2 night excursions from the casa, renting a car for ultimate flexibility.

We learned on our honeymoon in Asia that, with good research and resources, the best travel experiences are mostly unplanned. We spent months reading up, adding to links and lists of possible activities or venues, all captured in an online Google doc, which we can then access offline from our phones.

Research everything, but book nothing. Let your local experiences guide you to what’s next!

Our holiday gift to my mother, Becky, was a handmade ‘coupon book.’ I filled it with colorful pictures and potential destinations that she could pick and choose from, based on what sounded good to her each day. She got to just relax and enjoy the ride, without worrying about planning a thing!


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Our very first full day in Costa Rica was unambitious. We had stayed at a western-style hotel near the airport, since Becky flew in ahead of us, I wanted it to be easy for her to navigate in a country whose language she does not speak. So Bethany and I walked to get our rental car, picked Becky up from the hotel, and I began navigating us to the tiny village of Cerilles.

49812750_2338561356226475_5709171916288294912_nThe Intercontinental freeway, Route 1, was nothing more than a winding 2-lane road with slowly chugging trucks, dangerously zooming cars darting ahead of us on blind curves, and the occasional four-legged perro happily trotting across the pavement. I saw more dogs in roads in Costa Rica than I saw deer in rural Michigan my entire life.

My child-level español vocabulary quickly expanded to understand signs like “Ceda el paso” (wait to pass) and “Puede Angosta” (narrow bridge), while Bethany adapted to the anything-goes driving style of the locals. You want to pass the overloaded S10 pickup truck driving 20 km below the speed limit to avoid toppling the entire contents of their apartment? Just beep twice to let them know, and scoot narrowly past them. The oncoming traffic will slow down or drive on the shoulder to avoid hitting you.

When we finally arrived at the last turn, we counted our blessings and tried to shake off the stress of the hour and a half drive from San Jose. Leo had arranged for his family’s neighbor, Diego, to meet us at the end of the road, to help us find the casa. Buildings don’t have numbers there, you see, you just get verbal directions to go by. Take a left at the schoolhouse onto a dirt road, and the casa is not far. Unfortunately, we had arrived about an hour earlier than we told Diego, and without wifi, we could not tell him we had already arrived. Plus, Diego speaks no English, so we needed a translator.


As is common in Costa Rica, rural roads are dotted with tiny storefronts selling soda, bread, some necessities, and basic snacks. This was where we were scheduled to meet Diego in Cerilles. Knowing that my Spanish was nowhere near good enough yet, I stepped out of the shiny black SUV and entered the store. It was no bigger than a bedroom, I noticed, as the man behind the counter stared at the three pale gringas approaching him.

“Hola! Como esta?” I politely greeted the man, not knowing what I would say next, after, “Habla Ingles?” We tried to see if he would recognize Leo’s last name, asking, “Casa de Angulo?” while pointing up the road. Bethany pulled up Diego’s last name from her What’sApp conversation, and showed that to the man. “Ah, si!” the man nodded with much relief. What came next out of his mouth was a slew of words I did not know, dotted with a handful that I could recognize.

“Izquierda… rápido… casa… primera izquierda.”

“I think he’s saying it’s down this road and the first house on the left?” I tried repeating to confirm, using hand gestures, and he promptly told me, No, no… and then repeated himself with more emphasis on the up hill part of the directions. “Ah, si!” I gleefully replied, then turned to my wife and mother to translate. “Okay, I think past a couple other houses, then it’s up the hill, THEN the first house on the left!”

We bought some almost stale bread and a bag of clementines from him to show our appreciation, and because we had no clue where else we would find food nearby for the morning. We piled back into our foreigner’s vehicle, and took a deep breath. Bethany switched on the 4-wheel drive, and down the road we went. Just as the man described, at the top of the hill there was a gate and a driveway that disappeared behind a steep decline. We missed it, thinking it was a gate to a pasture, and pulled in the second driveway, where we were delighted to see a man standing outside. “Diego?” Bethany optimistically asked. “Si!”

After exchanging basic greetings, Diego turned to me and began speaking rapidly another stream of words I did not understand. My gift and my curse, you see, is that I have a musical ear, which allows me to learn and pronounce foreign languages very well, so I sound like I’m a fluent speaker, even when I’m not. “Estudio espanol,” I had practiced explaining, “perro intiendo solo un poco.” Diego nodded and resorted to hand gestures to guide us back to the other driveway. The dirt road, while technically two-way traffic, was extremely narrow, with ditches on both sides, which made for a twenty-point turn to reverse the direction of our large vehicle.

Diego got us into the casa, where we tried again to communicate in espanol. I felt a lot of pressure, as my mother asked me to ask him several questions, which I had no clue how to ask. While my spanish vocabulary is still infinitesimally small, I had learned some basic pronunciation trends, and started guessing at words that I expected would be cognates. Surprisingly, this attempt to make up words I didn’t know actually helped at times.

“Esta aqui air-condicion?”


“Donde esta el restaurante bueno?”

[A bunch of words I don’t know]… “Neccessito algo con Supermercado?”

In my attempt to ask about a restaurant for dinner, I thought he was telling me that they were closed because it was Sunday, but that we could buy groceries at the supermarket. I think I was totally misunderstanding him, however.

49089405_201951067426052_4779967295260721152_nAfter we unpacked and opened a few windows to catch a breeze, I looked at my map again and we decided to drive back to the nearby town of Esparza, which actually showed a few gridded streets, and looked promising of some civilization. We explored the town square, a charmingly populated block shaded by a massive oak tree, adorned by holiday lights, and filled with the co-mingling sounds of Sunday evening music and the squeals of children playing. The plain white church (which every town square requires in Costa Rica) sat properly on the east side of the square, its tall wooden doors wide open to the setting sun. 

On the opposite side was the supermercado, and we walked in to get a few staples for the morning. As we entered, I realized that the loud dance music I was hearing was actually leaking out from the store, and we were greeted by a booming, live DJ to entertain us while we shopped for bread and wine. “Well I can say that this is a first,” I joked with my mom about our grocery store dance party.

Nobody in the store spoke English either, which was okay, since money uses numbers and we could figure out the rest from context. After we paid what seemed like an extraordinary amount of cash in the local currency, colones, we packed up our few items and headed off in search of dinner.

Most of the buildings were just one story, and appeared well worn by generations of families. The restaurants also appeared to be extensions of homes, with a very humble and casual set up. We found a slightly larger restaurant, called Albizu, which looked a bit cleaner, more commercial, and acceptable to all three of us. So, hungry and tired from our immersive travel of the day, we pulled in to attempt to order our very first meal without any English.

Unlike many other countries I’ve traveled to, not even the younger denizens are willing or able to attempt English. Once more, I became the dedicated translator, with the help of my app, of course. Much like the U.S., many people do not really understand what “vegano” means, so I found myself carefully explaining all the things we could NOT eat, and simply hoping that they understood my intent. “Sin carne, sin heuvos, sin leche…”

I ordered a delicious dish with fried plantain pancakes, and refried beans, which go surprisingly well spread atop the crispy, savory plantain. Mom was happy with her “pollo” (chicken), and Bethany with her salad. All three of us were relieved at the deliciously satisfying meal that we miraculously managed to obtain. As scary as the language barrier had felt earlier, we all breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that at least we would eat well. 


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Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p4)

26 06 2018

(Read Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3)

The first week of our big road trip was filled with familiar landscape, down paved roads lined with oak and maple trees, just barely starting to transition from green to yellow and orange. The air was crisp in the mornings, but the sunshine streamed in that giant bay window in the afternoons as I drove westward.

A virtual ‘orange-a-topia’ awaits us

We began to develop a comfortable routine, with some small adjustments to our daily packing. We didn’t spend more than a night in any town, and most nights were spent planning the next day’s route over a dimly lit road map, with our 3-inch-thick printed USA campground directory. We had fun sharing our quaint Midwestern novelties with Gwendolyn the goose, but were most excited to gain distance from Michigan, to start reaching less familiar territory.


darwin_mnThe night we reached the border to Minnesota, we were giddy with excitement. Tomorrow, we could hardly believe it, we would finally get to experience the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota in person! We didn’t know how much of Weird Al’s song would ring true, and what was simply written in satire. Would there BE a souvenir miniature ball of twine?? Surely, at the very least, we would be able to give them our money to receive postcards and a bumper sticker, which would be added to the growing collage of stickers covering the windows of the bus.

worlds largest ball of twine starter kit souvenir darwin mn

The next morning, we rose with the sun, ate a cold bowl of cereal followed by a hot shower, and packed up the bus for Darwin, Minnesota. I buckled my seat belt, stepped on the metal pedal to the right to prime the carb, and fired up the engine. “Today’s the day, Gwen!” I hollered over my shoulder to our beloved travel companion. She rode in the back of the bus, gently perched atop a pillow like the royalty that she was. She smiled back at me from the rearview mirror, and off we went!


Jamie gripped the curled and tattered edges of the atlas to keep the wind from turning the pages, as he navigated us down two-line country roads. Darwin is not exactly a thriving metropolis, and getting there definitely required the scenic route. We didn’t have an actual address for the Ball of Twine, and were simply driving towards the tiny black dot on the map, hoping we’d be able to figure it out without too much difficulty.


The sun was shining strong, casting heavy shadows straight down when we turned onto County Rd. 14 at noon. We had been listening to our Weird Al cassette tape on repeat for an hour straight, joyfully singing at the top of our lungs, the song that brought us to this day. There, in the middle of the tiny town square, stood the wooden pagoda, just as it had been described. 21,140 pounds of string (according to Weird Al), sheltered in a plexiglass-sided shrine, with all the glory of a miraculous piece of toast with a Jesus profile burnt into it. I pulled over to the side of the road, parked the bus, and out we leapt.


I pulled out my camera, double checked that I had film in it, and began to document this glorious culmination of years of planning. There was a large sign next to the pagoda that substantiated the facts shared in the song, along with additional historical information, all of which is still permanently burned into my brain to this very day. Francis A. Johnson was a farmer who got a bit carried away with his excess baling twine, developing a ball that eventually required a tractor to rotate it with each new addition of twine, in order to create this perfect sphere. For 29 years, he worked on his art. He originally housed it at the farm, until the Ball’s infamy prompted a relocation to the town’s center, so that all 276 residents could enjoy its majestic glory.


Just 7 years earlier, I could have actually reached out and touched the Ball with my own flesh, to truly commune with the Twine, but, alas, the high security required in the 1990s led to the protective layer of plexiglass. It was disappointing, but I respected that this was for the good of the Ball.


Grinning like a giddy child, I circumnavigated the pagoda, to ensure that I captured every fathomable vantage point, before walking across the street to the nearby visitors bureau. Inside, I was greeted by a cramped little welcome center, replete with all the terrible tschotchkes I had hoped for. I bought the blue button, 10 postcards, a mini ball of twine, and, of course, 2 large, rectangular bumper sticker to affix to my bus, Sam.


With tears of joy, we sat outside in the grass to enjoy our peanut butter sandwiches while staring at the Ball of Twine. When we finished our al fresco lunch, we waved farewell to Darwin, and headed north. Just in case you are still planning your summer vacation, the town’s “Twine Ball Days” festival is in August!


Next up? World’s Largest Prairie Chicken!



13 06 2018

About six years ago, a dear friend of mine moved to Sweden. It was quite a departure from her life in San Antonio, Texas, where she had moved after we graduated Architecture school together in Austin. In fact, winter in Austin was just slightly cooler than summer in Stockholm, where she now calls home.


For years, I had been meaning to prioritize heading there to see her and her husband, Carl. It just kept being pushed to the back burner for more adventurous trips that aligned better with our travel matrix. You see, as an avid traveler, with a modest budget, I can only make it so many places in a given year. Usually I try to travel to places that are higher on my list, which is a pretty simple assessment.


Top Travel Priorities =

  1. Places at risk of disappearing due to climate change (already checked off the Maldives, Glacier National Park, and the Everglades)
  2. Places that require very long travel times (Asia, Australia, very remote islands, etc.), which are easier to handle while my body is young, and will be more painful if I wait until I’m older to explore.
  3. Once-in-a-lifetime events and cheap deals that are too good to pass up. (Solar Eclipse in Paducah, KY is a local example, or visiting a friend in the Peace Corp in Ouagadougou, which I regret missing out on)


So, when I heard an interview last fall on NPR about silly-cheap flights to the Nordic regions, I had to explore. Apparently, Norwegian Air was offering round trip flights for as little as a few hundred bucks, which was less than half of my first European travel back in 2001! Online I went to explore the possibility.


At first, it seemed too good to be true! $400 to fly to see Raina and Carl? Totally worth it! As I worked my way through the airline’s website, however, I was nickeled and dimed to death, with add-ons for so many ridiculous things that mainstream airlines like Delta or American Airlines don’t pester customers with. Eventually, I made it to the final page, with the “no-turning-back” button staring me down. As I prepared to click to book the flight, I was accostsed with yet another pop up. “Want to pay with credit card?” It taunted, “That’ll  just be another $33 fee!” This was the last straw.

I opened another tab and did a quick search. Turkish Airlines, which we had flown last year to Sri Lanka, was all-inclusive, and just about $500. It was worth it to know I had an assigned seat, room for my luggage, and even free drinks on the flight! Plus- BONUS- I had enough reward points from my credit card hobby to buy both our tickets without spending a dime!!


Thus, our trip was booked! Free flight, free accommodations (thanks to Raina and Carl for putting us up in their office/spare room!), so we just had to pay for meals, entertainment, and local transportation. My wife and I were very much looking forward to a different kind of vacation, with the ease and comfort of knowing locals, and a cultural experience more like our own than different.


What I discovered, was a bit surprising. This is very much my personal experience, which reflects my own travel history moreso than Sweden’s generous offerings.arctic circle


Sweden is north.


Really far north. Like, “further-up-than-most-of-the-country-of-Canada” north. Which means the sun plays tricks with your body, by doing things like making the sky light at 3am (or 10am, depending on the time of year). While it technically rose at 4:30am, the sky begins to glow for hours before and after the official existence of the sun in the sky. This seemed like no biggie, but after tacking up extra curtains, wearing an eyemask (thank you for the freebie, Turkish Airline!), and covering my head with a pillow, the sun was no match for my body’s incessant alignment to the cycles of the sun. I slept well every second or third day, which made it tougher to fully enjoy our daily excursions.

Sweden is soooo easy.

Never in a million years did I expect this to come out of my mouth, but our vacation was almost TOO easy for me. I didn’t realize how much I enjoy the challenge of learning a new language, adapting to other countries’ cultures, and the challenges of figuring out how things work. This is definitely a sensation that has evolved over years of traveling to less and less developed parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lazy day where I can relax, order a beverage in my native tongue, and not have a care in the world. But I also (apparently) really enjoy the challenges of foreign travel. Maybe it just makes for better stories.

There’s no language barrier.

In Stockholm, as in many large European cities, everybody speaks English. Here, it’s partly because they have free college education as citizens. Even when we tried speaking Swedish, people responded to us in English, which, as a language lover, was sometimes disappointing. Clearly, I’m privileged as a native English speaker, but it was also beautiful to see so many other visitors from countries all over the world speaking in their native language, and then switching to English (instead of Swedish) to order a meal.


Cars not required.

Our friends and hosts, Raina and Carl, do not own a car. They live and work in a place where they can either walk, bike, or take the metro every single day. Even when we wanted to escape to the country, we could do so by simply taking one of many ferries out through the archipelago to a remote island, knowing that there was a regular schedule to allow us to return home at regular intervals. Never once did I feel ‘stuck’ without a car, because their transportation system is so interconnected, frequent, and redundant, that at almost any point we had multiple options of how we wanted to get home.

Stockholm was inviting.

This city is extremely clean, feels very safe, and most importantly, it has good urban design.


As an Architect, I relish in discovering the dichotomy of ancient ruins, historically preserved buildings, and modern infill. Yet, unlike other major European cities I’ve been to, Stockholm feels much more preserved. It’s not that there is no modern design, but that the scale is kept in check with historic neighbors. There is not a ‘downtown’ filled with skyscrapers, in fact,  there are seldom any buildings taller than the predominant 5-8 stories. Instead, new construction is respectful, and typically built no higher than the tallest neighbor, which is often a church steeple from 400 years ago. The city has maintained a human scale, where you feel like you still matter. This makes it feel like a much smaller city than Indianapolis, despite having 50% more residents.


The density of the built environment n Stockholm is much more consistent, versus the skyscraper cluster that transitions into single family homes in less than a mile of downtown Indy. Single family homes are rare in Stockholm, and our friends owned a flat in a 4 or 5 story apartment building with a beautiful courtyard filled with bicycle parking.

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People MOVE here.

I’m not talking about immigration, although they DO have an unbelievable program that paid for Raina to take a year of intensive language courses specific to her field of expertise so that she could be a fully productive member of their society.


No, I’m taking about how people get around. I mentioned the mass transit, and referenced the bikes, but it really is amazing to see just how little cars are used here. It took me a few days to put my finger on it, but when I did, it was truly eye opening. After spending endless hours walking the cobblestone streets of the chain of islands that make up Stockholm, we sat at an outdoor cafe, joined by others willing to brave the chilly 61F temps to celebrate winter’s passing.


31403986_2000446300037984_1177753822146862086_nWith a glass of wine in hand, we sat and watched the boats pass by, the regular trains over bridges, and the abundance of pedestrians. I started watching more closely to observe the footwear of those who clearly were walking to or from work. What I noticed was starkly contrasting to what I would see back home. Unlike the business professionals in Indy, the very stylish Swedes made one small concession. They wore comfortable shoes. Think about this. Not a single woman walked past us wearing high heels. They were just too impractical! Instead, women wore sneakers- all of them! They might have fancier shoes at work to change into, but nobody was judged for wearing logical shoes on their walk to work. And you can see the difference in how fit everyone is!


There’s room to breathe.

One of the very unique aspects of Stockholm is that is is made up of a series of islands. Each island is connected via numerous bridges and tunnels, and many waterfronts are also lined with public parks and trails for biking and walking. While many of these parks are narrow strips of green, the interstitial space between the islands effectively functions like additional park space. No matter how dense the buildings are, you are seldom more than a 15 minute walk to a waterfront, which functions as a ‘release’ from the density. It gives your mind and body space to breathe, and enough visual distance for beautiful vistas that encourage you to slow down and enjoy the view.

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People Matter.

Hands down, the most fascinating thing to me about our experience in Sweden was the culture.  It left me so impressed, I can imagine why people want to live here, despite the dayless winters and nightless summers.


Taxes are high, and they have the social support system to prove it. For example, I saw more men pushing baby strollers on any given day than I have seen in the US in any given year. Swedes get 14 months paid leave when they have a baby! They also value work-life balance. When you work overtime, it gets banked as extra vacation time, on top of the 4 weeks of standard vacation folks already get. And your boss expects you to actually take all that vacation time!


Lastly, I have one word for you. FICA (pronounced “Fee-kuh”). Fica is a national concept that every employee, EVERYWHERE, takes a mid-morning break, where it’s practically mandatory for you to leave your desk, grab a coffee, and socialize with your coworkers for 15-25 minutes. Then, in mid-afternoon, you do it again. We actually went to Raina’s architecture firm to witness a Fica, and it was surreal. They even play ping-pong like socialists. Everyone grabbed a paddle, walks in a circle around the table, and takes one turn to hit the ball before continuing forward to make room for the next player. It felt like I was in a commune (but in a good way, and much cleaner). I’ve now taken it upon myself (as a person who eats lunch at my desk while working) to embrace this concept of Fica and bring it back to Indianapolis.

All-in-all, we had a very enjoyable experience. I didn’t even get into the specific sites and attractions Sweden offers, but that’s what your ‘big box’ travel sites are for! If you’re looking for a nice entry to oversees travel, I highly recommend it. Or if you just want an easy place to wander, you’ll never feel lost in Sweden. Say “Hi!” to Raina and Carl for us!

Hitting the Road Instead of the Books (p3)

11 06 2018

(See Part 1 & Part 2)

The early days of the big road trip required a bit of adjusting, as I learned how to live (not just camp out for a couple of days) inside my Volkswagen Bus with another human being. We spent a lot of time strategizing how to maximize our storage in ever nook and cranny, while leaving enough space to not feel claustrophobic. The original Westfalia conversion was designed with some smart features, like a dining table that folds down flat against the wall, a narrow closet and pantry along the opposite wall, and a cargo net above the mattress for pillows and blankets. Most importantly, the rear bench seat folds out into the bed, and is surprisingly comfortable and functional!

At night, when I parked the bus in the campsite, we developed a fairly quick process to migrate stuff from the back of the bus to the driver’s seat, to make room for preparing dinner. I was a lousy cook, but thankfully Jamie was far more experienced than I. Still, given our limited space for food storage, and few kitchen tools- a single burner, one pot, and one pan- our repertoire was pretty limited. We ate a lot of boxed mac n’ cheese. A LOT. I’m surprised my skin didn’t turn orange, given the high quality of ingredients we were consuming.


One night, we pulled into a campground on a chilly evening just as dusk settled. Jamie stepped out to the picnic table and got to work boiling water for another riveting round of mac n’ cheese while I rearranged the bus for sleeping. When I poked my head out to check on dinner, I was greeted by an unexpected stranger!

A rustling the dark preceded a flash of orange, as he lept onto the picnic table to greet us. This incredibly friendly orange cat began brushing his giant head against my outstretched hand,  and quickly warmed his way into our hearts. As the frost began to settle, we worried about this cat being left out in the cold. I debated letting him sleep in the bus with us, but was concerned about fleas. Our bleeding hearts got the best of us, so we decided on a compromise. I opened up the door and called out, “Here kitty, kitty!” He bounded onto the wooden table like he already knew what I was about to do. As I set down the bowl of leftover mac and cheese, our new friend wasted no time lapping up his hard earned treat.

(Note: In order to protect their identity, images of the cat and the KOA are portrayed by actors)

Good deed done for the day, I snuggled into my puffy Kmart sleeping bag, grateful for a warm meal in my belly and residual heat from the engine compartment below our feet. I dozed off into dreaming about what great adventures lie ahead.



I woke from my slumber, confused and sleepy.

[Tap.. tap… tap] A tinny sound appeared to move over my head.

Now I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Wide awake, I wrestled my arms from my sleeping bag to poke Jamie from his sleep. “Did you hear that??” I whispered.

“Hrmm?” he came to.

“There was a sound outside. I think something is on top of the bus!” I whispered more urgently. My heart was bounding. Here we are, in a strange state, in a strange campground, with just a handful of other campers. What kind of Fargo nightmare was out there?!?

We both paused and listened intensely. I heard another loud thump, but this time it sounded heavier, more like wood. I sat up and lifted the curtain up 2 inches, and peaked out the side window. There, on the picnic table, stood our little friend. He sat there, staring at me. “I think he wants more food!” I hissed. Then he leaped up onto the roof of the bus, pacing from front to back.


I’m not sure how long that cat was up there, but he was pretty persistent. I think he worked for the mafia. Eventually, sometime before sunrise, he gave up and left us alone. I definitely did not sleep well that night, and I decided that maybe feeding feral animals outside our vehicle was not the smartest idea. This trip was already fulfilling its destiny by teaching me valuable life lessons!




My ‘Test Road Trip’ from Hell

27 02 2018

Ever since the day we met, I knew I had a new road tripping buddy. Even though it was just the beginning of a long, cold winter in Michigan, and we had only just met, we began daydreaming about where we would go together the next summer. Bethany was equally adventurous, and we were elated by how many things we both enjoyed, and wanted to experience together. So, we decided to plan a “Test Road Trip.” Ya know, in case we got sick of each other after so many days…


My new best friend and I could hardly wait to begin our adventures, so when her friend, Kristin, invited her up to northern Michigan for her 40th birthday celebration, Bethany immediately squealed, “You should come with me!” Beulah is not exactly a short trip, but if we made it a long weekend, it would be a fun mini-adventure. Except, Kristin’s birthday falls on February 29th. May I now remind you that northern Michigan is prone to some pretty significant snowstorms in February? Yes, clearly this was a brilliant plan from the get go.


Lo and behold, as our trip grew closer, the weather forecast grew more ominous. Bethany wasn’t too worried, because she knew that her Swedish tank (aka “Volvo”) would have no problem in a few inches of snow. What she didn’t plan on, however, was that she was taking this road trip with a sustainability freak, who would insist on driving her own Honda insight Hybrid. For the unenthusiast, let me tell you briefly about this car. My “Silver Bullet” is a sporty looking 2-seater, with aerodynamic covers over the rear wheel wells, manual transmission, 2” clearance from the ground, weighs about as much as two women, battery-powered with a gas backup, and averages 65 mpg. So, yeah, obviously I couldn’t be seen in a 20-year-old, gas-guzzling Volvo, tank or otherwise.


Bethany (who I was learning is decidedly NOT a morning person), had not yet had any coffee when I convinced her of my sound logic for switching vehicles. We threw our luggage into the back hatch, and got ready to go. Just one small problem. Bethany had decided to buy an unassembled IKEA bookshelf and deliver it to Kristin for her birthday. It was in a long, thick box, and weighed as much as my car. We tried sliding it between the seats vertically, and it fit! But it came right up to the dashboard, completely blocking my view of everything right of the middle of my car, including my mirror, and my passenger. This would NOT do for a 6 hour road trip.


Being the problem solvers that we are, we pulled out some straps to tie the box to the top of my car, where I had installed a rack for mounting my bike carrier. The IKEA box sat snugly atop my car, functioning perfectly as a giant sail for catching wind! It was not ideal, but by this point we were well over an hour behind schedule, so I decided to roll with it. (Literally). Off we went on our first adventure!


Bethany had prepared some freshly juiced “Love Potion” for our journey, had consumed some caffeine, created a stellar music mix on CD, and was happily navigating. She had made this journey before on her motorcycle and had a favorite halfway spot where she liked to gas up, so that was out first destination. I was glad I was driving, because the weather was not cooperating, and the fierce gusts of wind were blowing my sail hard, tensing my arm muscles as I kept it between the lines on the road. As we got further out into the country, open fields of shimmering white crystals drifted over the highway, gusting and swirling into sudden walls of blinding whiteness before they disappeared into thin air. Fun!!!



I couldn’t wait to get to the halfway point.

The driving was too stressful for me to do anything but focus on the road, and I was growing hungry, and needed to pee. Our route looked quite different in the snow-covered terrain, Bethany noticed as she squinted at signs to try to remember which one was her exit. She knew it by sight only. I silently watched as my gas gauge dropped, which was especially alarming because our IKEA sail was depleting my battery as well. I began to worry as the distance between each exit grew further and further. “I think it must be this one,” she guessed, as we finally exited the freeway. “No… this isn’t it. Let’s turn around.”

“Are you SURE?” I asked.

“Yeah, this is too soon, it’s coming up next.”

“Should we just stop and find a gas station here, since we’re already off?” I prodded.

“No, my gas station is way nicer. Let’s keep going,” she insisted.

Against my better judgment, I complied. After all, I didn’t want to argue on our Test Road Trip. I turned around, only to discover that the exit we had taken was one of those where there’s an off ramp, but no on ramp. Only a road to the previous exit, with no way to abort. So, there we were, driving 9 miles the wrong direction, only to then get back on the freeway and try again. We passed two more exits with nothing but an intersection in sight, and I was seriously starting to freak out. Here we were, my new best friend and I, preparing to become that story you hear on the news. That tragic one about two ladies found frozen in a snow drift, after they ran out of gas in the middle of a blizzard in northern Michigan with nothing but an IKEA bookshelf to burn for warmth. So sad.

I started thinking about all the warm layers I could put on, and mentally preparing myself for the long, cold walk from our abandoned car in search of help, when finally, like a beacon of hope, the gracious orange glow of a Shell appeared on the horizon. WE WERE SAVED!! I breathed an audible sigh of relief, trying not to pee my pants, and coasted into the gas station on fumes and prayers to the universe.



I looked over at Bethany, our eyes both wide with amazement, and we smiled at our success! As a peace offering, she offered me a sip of her Love Potion, reaching down at her feet to grab the sealed bottle. As she twisted off the cap, a superheated explosion of beet orange juice splattered all over the inside of my car with shocking thoroughness. Bethany gasped in utter horror as her brain processed the phenomenal fermentation that we had just witnessed. You could not have engineered a better volcano had you tried.


Unable to speak, we both opened our car doors to go find something to clean up the mess. That’s when I heard the soft THUD of my passenger door hitting the concrete bollard next to Bethany. “You have GOT to be kidding me,” I muttered, but I could no longer deal with this insane series of unfortunate events. I HAD to go pee.


When I returned to the scene of the crime, Bethany was still feverishly dabbing at the upholstery with water and paper towel. Thankfully, the seats were pretty dry, since we were still sitting in them when it happened. I could see in her eyes that she was terrified that she had just killed our friendship. That was it. The Test Road Trip served its purpose and all future adventures were no officially cancelled. But I walked over to her, smiled, and said, “I can’t even believe our luck,” as I reached down to give her a hug. What else could I do?


downtown-beulah-in-winterBethany offered to drive the second half, and I decided to take her up on it. My shoulders ached from the tension of fighting with the wind gusts and snow drifts. She drove us the rest of the way, and it grew dark as we approached Kristin’s house. There were two ways to get to her place, nestled high up on a hilltop surrounded by trees. We now had a good 6 inches of snow on the ground, and were strategically coasting through stop signs to keep enough momentum to not get stuck. We turned onto the less steep approach, and I gulped. “There’s no way we’re going to make this,” I thought.


To my joy and awe, we fishtailed our way all the way to the top, and could see her driveway! That’s where we finally got stuck. I didn’t care at that point, we were close enough to walk. I grabbed my bag, tromped through the snow to her front door, and waited for instructions from B. “She said she’s not home yet, but the door’s unlocked,” Bethany read from her phone. She reached for the door and a booming series of barks ensued. “Oh, uh, hi Chopper. Do you remember me?” her voice quavered. “Great,” I thought, “we made it all the way here to be eaten by a dog.”


“Is he friendly?” I asked, having grown up with large dogs that cans sometimes sound meaner than they really are. B thought so, but clearly had a fear of dogs, so I decided to attempt to enter. I asserted myself and commanded the dog to sit to get a treat, and shockingly, he listened. After befriending him enough to get in the door, we walked inside, threw down our bags, and collapsed on the couch.


B’s reunion with her friends was lovely, though I (the introvert) was meeting everyone for the first time. We had some tapas and wine and caught up with Kristin and Kate. We were so exhausted, we didn’t stay up too late before asking where we were sleeping. Kristin’s two little boys had twin beds downstairs, one decorated with Batman, one with Superman. Bethany chose Batman, leaving me with the latter, and we passed out from our crazy long day.


In the morning, I awoke with a cold nose, and burrowed my face beneath the comic sheets. “Was yesterday for real?” I wondered. “That was EPIC.”  I began making some grand analogies to the journey of Odysseus, and then the cold found me. It penetrated the rest of my skin, as I shivered myself awake. I’m all for energy efficiency, but this was a little ridiculous. Moments later, my loud thinking woke Bethany and she agreed, so we toddled upstairs to make some coffee and tea. When Kate and Kristin awoke, it was to the realization that they had run out of propane, which is how they heat their house. After some frantic calls, we learned that it would be a couple days before they could get refilled, what with the snowstorm and all. So we prepped the house for the cold snap, and bundled up. Later that afternoon, B & I curled up together on the Batman bed for a nap, sharing our body heat for warmth. This was probably the highlight of the test road trip at that point.

The party was held next door, at Kristin’s parents’ home, which was empty because they were gone on vacation, and had heat. B & I moved over to their garage apartment for the night, grateful for a backup option. The party was amazing! I met so many new people, and had so much fun hearing all their old stories about B. And at the end of the late night, I got to lay in bed and stare up at the stars through a skylight, and make a wish on a falling star.


And, yes, my wish came true.


How to Kill the Planet in 8 Easy Steps!

3 12 2017

dinosaur-fuelAfter billions of years, I think it’s about time that we realize that this planet that we reside on is truly only here to do our bidding. As such, I think we need to show it who’s boss. I am American, after all, so domination is the only solution. The problem? Well, the only problem is that those lazy dinosaurs didn’t last longer, and so we are running low on their decomposed corpse energy, so therefore, the Earth must pay!

I know what you’re thinking. “How will I make time to properly destroy the planet? I’ve got soccer practice at 6pm!” Don’t worry, I will show you just how easy it can be to decimate the third rock from the sun, without impacting your schedule. Rest assured, no shin-kicking snots will go without their juice boxes… in fact, that’s part of the destructive fun!


In an effort to expedite to modern society’s 7 second attention span, I’ll even put it in the form of a list that can’t be divisible by five, because we all know that will get shared on social media more. So, without further adieu, here are the…

8 Easy Steps to Killing the Planet

#1. Avoid Using Your Legs

We all know how annoying it is to have to walk up a flight of stairs when the elevator is broken. Now people expect us to walk to lunch too?!? No way! Walking is too healthy, and might make your legs more muscley. We all know that our future is Wall-E, and the fashion trends are going to be more blobular. Therefore, we need to start practicing now if we ever hope to be in shape for space season! Plus, walking doesn’t burn ANY fossil fuels. What fun is that?


hummerWhat you need to do is focus on doing everything humanly possible with a large hunk of steel surrounding you. Ideally, you want to do it alone. Taking the bus is a cop out. Go get in one of your cars, preferably a large SUV, and drive to lunch. Don’t get sucked into making other stops along the way because it would be more efficient. The bank can wait. Make sure that you take a separate trip for EVERY place you need to go! This way, you are able to burn as many dead dinosaurs as possible! Die, you bastards!!

futuristic-car-gadgetsPro Tip: Be sure to crank your heat/AC, charge your phone while using Google maps, blast your radio while simultaneously playing 4 movies on separate tablets, and turn on every overhead light in your car. This way, you can use just a skosh more energy!


#2 Use as Much Plastic as Humanly Possible

plastic recycling_636032246920960325The future is plastic. So is the past. Because plastic is made from… dead dinosaurs!!! Yay! The only thing better than that, is that plastic will NEVER biodegrade, which means that all 300 million tons of it produced each year will just keep building up in our landfills, oceans, and streets! Awesomesauce!




What more can you do to help drown our planet in plastic?

Did you go to a restaurant today? Of course you did. Did they bring you a drink? You betcha! Did they forget to bring you a straw? WHAT?!?! That straw is a tiny but critical piece of our master plan! You simply must demand a piece of plastic to sip your beverage through every single time. How else would we accumulate  enough to clog drains and kill animals? If your waiter doesn’t know better, be sure to kindly request that they always bring guests a straw, and not to even offer an option to go without. It would just be tragic if someone’s lips had to touch that sterilized glass.


rKpPCocDid you know that you can also ask for your grossly oversized portions to go? Better yet, that toxic styrofoam (the best kind of plastic there is because it is entirely impossible to recycle!) will come in a plastic bag! Plastic bags are really the highest honor you can bestow upon the earth, as their elusively thin material makes them guaranteed to fly out of the beds of trucks, soaring into the air, where they can catch on tree branches, land on fences, or, ideally, float away down a river, to become part of the world’s 5 oceanic gyres. What’s a gyre, you will ask? Well, this is really a perfect bedtime story for your kids. A gyre is a magical place, far, far away, where allll the world’s plastic ends up. It’s a mystical place, where the currents swirl around an iceberg made of plastic, and the lonely plastic bag reunites with all of its ancestors, which break down into smaller and smaller bits, but never completely go away. So it’ll be there for generations to come! Now, there is a sad part to the plastic gyres. Some plastic does disappear, when it gets swallowed by birds and fish. Then their bellies get full of inedible garbage, and they die. So it does have a happy ending!


plastic platesWhat else can you do with plastic? Well… everything! Vote with your dollars! You can purchase products that are wrapped in plastic. Be sure to avoid items with minimal packaging. You can also make sure to be individual sized servings instead of buying in bulk. Costco is for losers! (Unless you can buy massive quantities of individually wrapped items. Then it’s okay.) You can also ensure an ongoing supply of plastic by using disposable goods whenever possible. Plastic razors? Check. Unrefillable pens? Check! Red Solo cups for that party next week? Check and check! Dishwashing is lame. Why do you even own dishes? You could just buy plastic plates and forks and never have to wash dishes again!! Genius!

Pro Tip: What’s the best way to up the ante on your single use plastic plates? YES! Good job! Styrofoam is truly the best option because it’s cheapness is made up for with the fact that it cannot accidentally be recycled, so you can sleep easy knowing that your good deeds can’t be undone.

platic ringPlastic is forever. Seriously. For-ev-er. You should really consider replacing that engagement ring with a plastic one. It’s a much more romantic and meaningful gesture. Then, once you get married and have more babies than required to replace you on the planet, be sure to buy the next generation nothing but plastic toys to play with!



plastic bottlesLast but not least, the tried and true way to incorporate plastic into your daily habits is… the ubiquitous plastic water bottle! Can you believe that our parents grew up drinking water from the tap??? Heathens! We know now that companies can put that precious water inside plastic, and charge us way more money! Yay capitalism! Do your part by refusing to use a refillable bottle. Better yet, take your costco bottled water bounty everywhere you go, and offer it for free to other people! You’re guaranteed to be popular! At home, at work, or on the go, you’ll never be without BPAs or water, unlike those poor people in Africa who walk 4 miles to the river to get water. You should ship them bottled water too! See what a good person you are?!? Mother Teresa’s got nothing on you, hot shot!


#3 Gobblety Gook

Did you think I was going to give you all 8 tips at once??? Silly human! Nah, I’m going to drag this out until I get my book deal.



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