Things I’ve learned this year

So I recently celebrated a birthday. And completed a fairly arduous year at STEP. And graduated from Stanford (again) and am entering a new phase of life/the working world (again). And am on a plane with nothing else to do but update this LONG NEGLECTED blog. As is fitting for a teacher of English and a student of learning (or something) let’s journey back through what I’ve learned this year, loosely defined as starting in April 2013 when I last did a life-update post.

In April 2013, I left DC and moved temporarily back to Redlands en route to coming to Stanford. I learned: that I am directly responsible for one marriage and emigration from China, that Malaysian noodles are a dish best enjoyed late at night and probably mostly in Malaysia, that just because a couch wouldn’t fit through an apartment door doesn’t mean you can’t wrench it out.

In May 2013, I took the Social Science CSET, a test required of social studies teachers in California. I learned: there is more to California history than Junipero Serra.

Padre Serra in the Capitol, 4/19/13

Padre Serra in the Capitol, 4/19/13

I traveled to Paris and learned: that Benjamin Franklin’s nickname in 1780s Paris was The Lightening Ambassador, that you can have a bad meal in Paris but it’s not very likely, that entry to the Disneyland Paris hotel is for guests only but if you walk with purpose you will be fine, that you must know the storyline of Phantom Manor (the Disneyland Paris Haunted Mansion-equivalent) in advance to understand the intricacies of the ride, that “Get Lucky” was about to be a Song of the Summer, that the line for Notre Dame is very long at all times always.

Small World America room, 5/27/13

Small World America room, 5/27/13

Then we went to Geneva. I learned: that Chez Ma Cousine and its chicken is as wonderful as it was in 2006, that the Wall of Reformation is larger than I remembered but the Reformation Museum is smaller, that the Movenpick ice cream store is not properly positioned on Google Maps, and that CERN really just looks like an office park.

The Wall of Reformation, 5/30/13

The Wall of Reformation, 5/30/13

At the start of June 2013, we were in Grindelwald. I learned: that the Swiss Alps are truly delightful, that no one does hiking signage like the Swiss, that there are many types of mountain transportation available, that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is terrible, and that my love for my water bottle knows no bounds. Later I learned: Zurich is really expensive.

Selfies with timers are hard, 6/5/13

Selfies with timers are hard, 6/5/13

Then Italy. In Milan I learned: that pointy cathedrals are amusing, that Lord Byron stole a treasured lock of Lucretia Borgia’s hair, that you should not stand directly in front of the automatic doors at “The Last Supper,” that amazing food can be stumbled upon anywhere. In Bologna I learned: that sometimes it’s worthwhile to take a cab rather than drag luggage over yet more cobblestoned blocks, that aperol is not good, that food souvenirs are the best souvenirs, and so are vintage fashion magazine covers purchased from street vendors. In Ravenna I learned: Galla Placidia is an excellent historical character, that green is the best color for mosaics, that beach parties don’t happen on weeknights. Finally, I learned: that transport strikes can derail your rail-to-San-Marino-and-get-a-new-country plans, that Ferrara is a good back-up plan, that the Sforza reign was dramatic, mighty, and fairly brief, that sage/squash/browned butter is a winning combination, that Sicilians make excellent mussels.

The pointiest of them all, 6/8/13

The pointiest of them all, 6/8/13

I started STEP. I learned: that they weren’t kidding about it being busy, that Munger is an excellent place to live, that the Tresidder Southwest Chicken Salad is as good as I remember but still too stuff-heavy.

In July 2013, I learned: that sixth grade is actually kind of amusing, that Little Brother ™ has a switch on the back of his neck (spoiler alert!), that the math building Thai Café is still $6 and still a model of efficiency, that kale is plentiful and wonderful in California.

English STEP at summer school on my bday

English STEP at summer school on my bday

In August 2013, I learned: that on Fridays we wear orange, that the Olsen film Holiday in the Sun has aged very well, and that learning speech cues like “say more” in our Literacies class would have a lasting impact on the conversational gambits of many STEPpies. 

In September 2013, I learned: That you should never set up your tailgate at the lowest point of the lot when rain is predicted, tthat I am definitely allergic to Ambien and that Chinese lanterns ala HSM2 make a wonderful way to end a wedding.

Peace Corps wedding reunion, 9/14/13

Peace Corps wedding reunion, 9/14/13

In October 2013, I learned: that most of the Stanford class of 2008 has aged well, that the panda vest keeps one extremely warm, and that three times is the right number of times to celebrate Halloween. 

Stanford Halloween Party 1

Stanford Halloween Party 1

In November 2013, I learned: That I am the best at planning Napa trips (let’s be real, I knew that already), and that it is very difficult to determine which Oak Glen ranch makes the best apple cider.

Chilling in the kitchen at French Laundry, 11/11/13

Chilling in the kitchen at French Laundry, 11/11/13

In December 2013, we went on a Panama Canal cruise. I learned: Puerto Vallarta makes for a fabulous food tour, that there are no sloths on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, how locks work, that I’d been misattributing the number of countries I’ve visited (should be either 58 or 48 depending on your definitions). I also learned that Lil Jon can come on to DJ extremely late.

Puerto Vallarta food tour, 12/24/13

Puerto Vallarta food tour, 12/24/13

In January 2014, I learned: that I like Great Expectations a lot more on a second, adult read, that Petaluma makes for an excellent day trip, and that iPhones are much sturdier than you might think.

In February 2014, I learned: that taking four graduate classes, teaching one class, and applying for jobs makes for a busy existence, that going directly from the airport to the party is the correct way to start a Vegas weekend, and that crowd safety and control is not something taken appropriately seriously. 

In March 2014, I learned: that I make an excellent Miss Havisham, that you should not try to go down a steep unmarked path near Half Moon Bay while holding beach chair and you should not attempt to go up it at night.

Miss Havisham, 3/14/14

Miss Havisham, 3/14/14

In April 2014, I learned: that Carmel Valley is a lovely place and so is Point Reyes, that Stanford’s Ram’s Head can put on a great musical, and that even when the parameters of a job search are well-defined there are no sure things.

Carmel Valley, 3/30/14

Carmel Valley, 3/30/14

In May 2014, I learned: PACT (the performance assessment that most California credential programs use) isn’t actually that bad, that making others listen to you reflect on your teaching journey has its amusing parts, that deep fried moon pies actually aren’t even that good but artichokes always are, that I am fabulous at murder mystery games, and that there is no cell service in Dorrington, California.

Castroville Artichoke Festival, 5/31/14

Castroville Artichoke Festival, 5/31/14

In June 2014, I learned: you can store a lot of tissues in the sleeves of a graduation gown, that there is no good way to wear a mortarboard, that it is possible to go do a bar mitzvah, bar mitzvah party, two-hour drive, wedding, and wedding party in one day, and that this is a thing that necessitates having seven pairs of shoes in the car.

Post-graduation ceremony, 6/15/14

Post-graduation ceremony, 6/15/14

I learned things in July too! But that’s going to be a new travel-centric post of delight.


On moving for the tenth time in five years

Cherry blossoms in DCYep, I just did the math. Ten times since June 2008. Anyway, would you like a Q&A?

So many moves; why would you do this to yourself? Well, you know that I love packing for trips, so maybe I also love moving? Ha ha ha. No, it has just happened.

So what is this move? DC to Redlands! Temporarily.

Wherefore? You see, I always imagined DC might be a temporary place for me, as CA has long been where the heart is. I needed to return to DC after Peace Corps to finish my MA in TESOL at AU, and I waited to return until I had a job in hand. Said job has been a great learning experience (yadda yadda yadda), but I’m more interested and fulfilled by teaching. So, I shall teach!

Wait, but so why are you actually moving? Oh yeah. So, I want to teach, but have realized that I’d rather teach younger students and all students instead of adult English language learners exclusively, which is what my previous graduate studies qualified me to do. If I want to teach in public schools in CA, I need a state teaching credential. So, I applied and was delighted to be admitted to the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), which is a year-long program that ends with a teaching credential (secondary English for me) plus an MA in education.

Oh, so that’s why you’re moving? Yep. The program starts in late June and will conclude in June 2014.

Then what? I’ll be well prepared to teach high school or middle school English. My intent afterwards would be to stay with permanence in a teaching position in the Bay Area.

What in the meantime? I’m leaving DC in two weeks, and will head home for three weeks of relaxation and luncheoning. Then I’m going on a fabulous Eurotrip for three weeks. Then home, then straight up to Stanford and moving into my TBD on-campus residence.

On campus, really? Yeah, it’s best-case scenario in terms of price and convenience compared to surrounding Palo Alto. Munger’s nice, man.

What is this Eurotrip you speak of? I’m glad you asked. Brother Matthew is moving to Geneva so Grandmother Glo, Cousin Molly, and I are going along for the ride. First the whole group will do Paris and Geneva, then Glo and I head on to Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland (read: Alps). Finally, I’m meeting Friend Ashley in Italy for visiting Milan, Bologna, Ravenna, and San Marino. Three weeks total.

How are you feeling? Excited to get back to Stanford, though it should be a fairly different experience than life as an undergrad. I also anticipate working harder and being busier than I’ve been in the last….oh, 4-7 years.

What are you most looking forward to in CA? Tailgates, the weather, being closer to family, hanging with Dvora’s baby, re-upping my Stanford apparel wardrobe, the Tresidder southwest chicken salad, the social dance scene, reconnecting with friends all over the Bay Area.

What will you most miss in DC? DC friends, Capital Bikeshare, being able to walk to tons of bars and restaurants, my dance cardio class (“Dance Trance”), no driving, my couch.

So have you started packing? People keep asking me this. But I’m having a full-service move and they’re doing the packing for me! I do still have some organizing things to do though.

OK I give up–can you walk me through those ten supposed moves? Stanford – Redlands (June ’08), Redlands – Redwood City (Aug ’08), Redwood City – Stanford EPGY (June ’09), Stanford EPGY – DC (Aug ’09), DC – Redlands (May ’10), Redlands – Chengdu (June ’10), Chengdu – Chongqing (Aug ’10), Chongqing – Redlands (Sept ’11), Redlands – DC (April ’12), DC – Redlands (May ’13). Plus, Redlands – Stanford (June ’13).

Can I come visit you at Stanford? Yes please!

Washington DC Edition

June 15, 2008

Long ago someone described an analogy that stuck with me, about how much the first four years post-college–the first four years of “life”–mimic progress through an education. Freshman year of “life,” 2008-2009 when I was living in Redwood City, I was figuring out where I was and who I should be becoming, halfway between homesickness for the halcyon school days and feeling like a bona fide adult. Sophomore year, 09-10, saw me getting out of my comfort zone and exploring new territory, having moved to DC. Junior year I “studied abroad” in China. Senior year featured some soul searching (leaving China, beginning the job search) and finally becoming fully and gainfully employed and adultier.

Next month will mark the four year anniversary of my graduation from Stanford. I never would have envisioned that these four years would have looked like this, but it’s certainly been an amusing ride.

Back to the present. I had originally interviewed at Booz Allen Hamilton in October of last year and had been tentatively offered a job shortly thereafter, but not to start until April. In January off I went to Southeast Asia and in February, to that action-packed Caribbean cruise. Within a week of returning I got the phone call I’d been waiting for, with a firm start date from Booz Allen three weeks hence.

So, next up was a whirlwind of packing and shopping (BAH offered a relocation package that took care of all the costs of moving my large quantities of Stuff) and quick goodbye-west-coast trips to AZ and SF. Ro joined me for the trip to DC, and we arrived Apr. 5, preceding my moving truck by a couple of days. The biggest delight of the day was the couch that had been purchased in CA and stubbornly refused to fit through the apartment door. Hey, did you know you can hire people to come to your house, take your furniture apart, and then reassemble it inside?

See the size of that couch? See the size of that hallway?

At Booz Allen, I am a consultant in the Strategy and Organization Capability, Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness Center of Excellence. Yes, it’s possible to say that in one breath but just barely. What this means practically is that I’m on a project helping the Department of Navy work towards audit readiness by compiling and centralizing information about financial procedures. As far as consulting gigs go, this one has some advantages–I’m on a small, manageable team of 6, it’s a contract expected to last as long as two years, and I’ll have a legit permanentish office, as opposed to sitting at a client site or sitting in temporary office space. One downside is that that office is in Crystal City–this is a commute that involves about 16 mins of walking, 15 mins of metro-riding, and 2-10 minutes of wait time, so not bad (but not as ideal as it would have been to sit in the Booz Allen DC office by my house). My project is still in the ramping-up stages and there are some kinks to iron out (still waiting for that permanent office to be assigned), but all in all this is going to be a good opportunity to do real work and learn a ton.

Meanwhile, things on the “life” side of the Work-Life Balance are swimming along nicely. Somehow I’ve already managed to consolidate/acquire more friends in this go-around than I did in the 09-10 year, so it’s been a busy few weeks and I’m not complaining. Except about how I’m not getting an ideal amount of sleep. It’s a great time to be in DC–good weather (mostly), people excited about summer’s arrival, and lots of new people to meet.

I’m also really happy with my living situation–I’m in a decent-sized studio in a big building on Scott Circle, within a 10-minute walk of three metro lines, the White House, Whole Foods, and tons of restaurants and bars, and in a 25-minute walk I can be in almost every major entertainment district in DC or, like, the Smithsonian. For all my frequent Smithsonian trips.

It’s kind of strange to be able to look forward and not see any major changes on the horizon. This is pretty much the first time since high school that I haven’t known a move was eventually coming, and that I’ve had an occupation that can really go on indefinitely. But meanwhile, I’ve got some exciting plans to look forward to. Matthew and I are doing Birthright Israel in August. I expect to be in CA for weddings etc in August and October. There are a couple of delightful friends planning visits to DC in July. And hopefully along the way there’ll be more local adventures like beach trips.

So, sum total, life is pretty good. It would have surprised me, at college graduation or even at leaving China last year, to know what was going to happen down the road but I guess that’s life. Come visit me in DC and see for yourself!

14 Days in the Southern Caribbean, aka, most fabulous last-minute vacation eva!

Happy Pi Day! Pi may not have been much on my mind recently, but pie certainly has been. For you see, I recently returned from a vacation with my extended family’s most accomplished pie maker—and I don’t think an evening went by between Feb. 25 and Mar. 9 that didn’t feature a mention of pie or a discussion of our ship’s standard Apple Pie a la Mode in comparison.

Ft. Lauderdale, two sea days, Aruba, Curacao, sea day, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten, St. Thomas, two sea days, Ft. Lauderdale

My maternal grandfather, Leo, has four siblings with whom he’s always been close, and in the last few years my grandparents have taken several cruises with these siblings and spouses. Gleo (Gloria+Leo), started planning this two-week Southern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Constellation several months ago, and as I continued to enjoy my funemployment I had in the back of my mind the idea of joining them. I wasn’t sure I had the time to do it until the morning of February 22, however–and within four hours, Ro and I were booked on a cruise departing three days hence! We were thrilled to join Gleo, along with great-aunts Lee and Bert, great-uncle Bill, and great-aunt’s-boyfriend Irv as a last-minute surprise.

Last-minute is pretty key here. We ended up booking the cruise and flight to Florida about 50 hours before we left for the trip, and we literally booked our return flight from Ro’s iphone while waiting at the airport for our departure flight. We got about the same price for our cruise as we would have gotten if we had booked several months earlier, but our airfare cost about twice as much as my grandparents’ (booked in November). Since I’m a champion packer—who, shh, was still partially packed from Southeast Asia and recent weekend trips—getting my suitcase ready last-minute wasn’t an issue. (I approach packing using the container approach, using separate organizers/bags/folders for each category of clothing and accessory, since you asked.) Instead, our biggest problem with such a short prep period was that we didn’t have much time to plan for our destinations.

Knip Beach, Curacao

Our two-week cruise featured five sea-days and eight ports in the Southern and Eastern Caribbean, with a day spent in each port. Usually before a cruise (and did I mention this was my 18th cruise? jeez), we would have spent time researching each port and figuring out the most interesting things to see most cost-effectively. For example, since ship’s shore excursions are often more expensive and more limited than excursions booked directly through independent operators in each port, with more time I would have done more research on operators and recommendations. (To get started finding non-ship’s excursions, searching for recommended operators on Cruise Critic is a great place to start.) We were able to do some of this, and all of our port days turned out well, but with more time time we might have done more planning more calmly.

Deciding, within a four-hour period, whether I+Ro could go on this trip and whether we could justify the cost and time away was a little stressful, but in the end we were very glad everything worked out so well. I got to know family with whom I had never spent much time, and I don’t know if another opportunity like this one will come about again. And with great weather, beautiful beaches and islands, and delicious cruisey food, how could we go wrong?

I know you probably don’t want to read a step-by-step rundown of our time on the cruise, so instead I’ll leave you with my favorite kind of trip summary: by the numbers.

Average age of the members of our party, excluding Ro and me: 86.3

Approximate average age among the 2000 passengers on the ship: 65

Number of people ages 3-18, out of these full 2000 passengers: 11 (Do you see what I’m getting at here, about the demographics of this cruise?)

Number of injuries or illnesses among our party that required a visit to the ship’s doctor: 6

Most serious injury in our party: broken nose and two black eyes from a ship lurching-related fall

Most ridiculous injury in our party: driving Leo’s electric scooter over one’s own feet

Most important piece of family trivia learned: In his youth, Leo could skin 85 muskrats in an hour (with carcasses purchased from the fur trappers and pelts then sold to the traders)

Games of trivia played on the ship in which Ro’s and my team either won or tied for the win: approx. 6/14

Most important game of trivia played: Broadway Name That Tune, which I won despite playing solo versus teams of up to 6

Number of pages of novels read during trip: 1700

Most embarrassing moment of trip: when Ro and I tried to leave a show early and were called out by the performer from stage. This happened TWICE.

The family on the final formal night. Clockwise from top left: Ro, Me, Irv, Lee, Bert, Bill, Leo, and Gloria.

Number of first-time ports for me: 8/8

Number of islands visited that are independent countries I can add to my list of countries visited: 4

Number of islands visited that are kind of independent countries: 3

Total number of countries I have now visited (counting generously vs. technically): 48, 42

Official ship’s excursions taken: Aruba (catamaran and snorkeling); St. Lucia (jungle mountain biking excursion); St. Thomas/St. John (ferry to St. John for snorkeling and beach)

Non-ship tours taken through private operators in port: Curacao (all-day van tour of island with Peter Trips); Barbados (found a 3-hour van tour at the tourism desk when we got to port); Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten (all-day minibus island tour with Bernard’s Tours)

DIY days in port: Grenada (walked around town, took a cab to the beach); Antigua (cab to the beach)

Island to which I’d most like to return for a longer visit: Curacao for a low-key vacation, Saint-Martin for a partying-and-French-food vacation, or Barbados for a no-cost-barred vacation

Planes landing overhead at Sunset Beach, Sint Maarten

So, a great trip overall—very different from my recent tromp through Southeast Asia, but variety is the spice of travel. Cruising has its drawbacks, like not getting to spend more than a few daytime hours in any given place, but it’s hard to find an easier, more accessible vacation. Cruising caters to a range of activity levels, since you can do anything you want in port and still make it to Family Cocktail Hour and Dinner. Two members of our group never even left the ship and still had a lovely time hanging out on the ship and enjoying the family. Ro and I enjoyed plenty of beaches and sightseeing, and got a taste of where we might someday care to return, and only had to unpack once.

The next big adventure? Moving to DC! As I’ve mentioned before I’ve had a tentative job in DC to start around April, and today I got an official start date. I’ll be working as a management consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, and am starting April 9 and heading to DC shortly before that. Very excited that everything has worked out, and although spending six months at home while job searching and then waiting to start work wasn’t what I expected, I have no regrets–especially since I got to spend so much time traveling and with family.

Singapore: So shiny, so clean

I write this while about to take off on my next adventure, i.e. an exciting red-eye to Florida. But I’ll leave you on tenterhooks about this story for a few moments: first, we have Singapore to cover!

Singapore Art Museum (my camera malfunctioned so I'm a bit light with photo evidence of our time in Singapore)

I chose to spend the last three days of my trip in Singapore partially for logistical reasons. Most of the SNU Crew was going to be leaving Bali earlier than my return-flight to the US would allow, so I decided to pick one more destination that I could see in a short period of time and that would be close to Kuala Lumpur, from whence I would be flying home. Singapore fit the bill perfectly.

Amy, an SNU friend, and I left our hotel in Bali at 4:30 a.m. and by 10:30 we were happily ensconced in a hostel by Singapore’s Clarke Quay. The first hour in country was already delightful: getting from the airport to the hostel on public transit was very straightforward, and the hostel (Five Stones) was the cleanest and swankiest I’ve ever visited. One deterrent for budget travelers to Singapore is the higher prices compared to the rest of Southeast Asia—but at only about $20 per night for a dorm bed, at least lodging wasn’t too horrifying. Side note: this will be the last time I will ever sleep in a 14-bed dorm room. But that wasn’t your fault, Singapore.

One of the next things we noticed was how excited Singaporeans seem to tell visitors about Singapore. The Singapore travel bureau website is the fanciest I’ve ever seen (and I used to look at travel bureau websites for a living), and everyone we spoke to was eager to help, eager to suggest attractions, and eager to talk about their life in Singapore.

Day One featured a guidebook-inspired walking tour and a pair of museums—the fun Singapore Art Museum, featuring modern and contemporary works by Singaporean and Asian artists, and the National Museum of Singapore, a fancy schmancy and high-tech ode to Singapore’s history and culture. We also enjoyed Singapore Slings in their birthplace, the Raffles Hotel—even if it was one of the most expensive drinks I’ve ever enjoyed, and even if there is a bit of a mass atmosphere in the long bar (two busloads of German tourists shared the hall with us), it was still amusing. (And we ate our money’s worth of their peanuts.) To round out the day of classic, touristy Singapore we supped in a hawker market, filled with dozens of stands offering specific Singaporean or Asian dishes. Yummy, and another money-saver.

Now, I shouldn’t have to remind any readers of this blog what a fan I am of good theme parks—Hong Kong Disneyland was probably one of the highlights of Peace Corps China, let’s be real. So when I found out there’s a Universal Studios Singapore it was easy deciding to allot it one of our three days. We arrived at opening time, obvi, with the intent of beating the crowds, but that was hardly even necessary since there were five minute waits or less on every ride all day (note: visiting on a weekday in January is a great plan).

I haven’t been to Universal Studios Hollywood or Florida in several years, so although many of the Singapore park’s attractions are repeated in other parks, they were almost all new to me. (One of my major problems with Universal in general, compared to Disney, is that too many of their rides are dependent on current movies that not everyone may have seen. After the Transformers, Mummy, and Madagascar rides I had to have Amy explain all the plot gaps I didn’t get….) In any case, it’s a great park—similar to Hong Kong Disney in size and scope, meaning smaller than the US parks, but we can hope it’ll grow over time. The only horrifying part? I’ve been on a lot of cruises, but perhaps the most cracked-out musical revue I’ve ever seen was Monster Rock!, which features slutty classic movie villains singing and dancing to hits like Flo Rida’s “Low” and Chinese power ballad “Wo Ai Ni.”

That night Amy and I got to see another silly side of the nation’s “culture”: that of the expat businessman in Singapore, swimming in cash and unafraid to throw it around. While having a beer in the financial district Amy and I made friends with a couple of such, and we were just happy we weren’t going to be around when the time came to pay the piper. But if ever you’re looking for a swanky bar recommendation, the 282-meter UBC building houses a lovely rooftop bar called 1-Altitude.

You can imagine that the third morning was a little rough, and Amy and I opted for the low-effort activity of riding a hop-on hop-off bus and boat long enough to get a nice drive-by view of the city’s main neighborhoods and attractions. And actually, between that tour and our previous forays we had a pretty thorough experience of Singapore’s sites and history–we never even visited the Marina Bay Sands resort, but I’d be happy to tell you when it was built, what it was inspired by, or how much it costs to rent the top floor for a 700-person company party.

During one of my last moments in Singapore, I stopped in a 7-Eleven to buy gum in advance of my three flights back to California, but couldn’t find it in the store. I picked out mints but asked the cashier what was the deal—silly me not to have realized that gum cannot be sold in this cleanest of countries! Yes, Singapore can feel a little sterile and cold—a couple of people I spoke with complained about the lack of creativity or vibrancy of culture—but as long as you know what you’re getting into it provides a great contrast to most of Southeast Asia. One of my biggest disappointments is that I never saw the giant slide in the Singapore airport, so twist my arm, I guess I’ll have to return some day.

I’ve been home for three weeks now, and two days ago Roberta and I made a last-minute decision to join my grandparents and two sets of great-aunts/uncles on a two-week Caribbean cruise. Yay for “funemployment”! As mentioned, we’re on a red-eye to Florida, and I’m very excited to enjoy the sunny tropics on a different side of the world, but also to spend time with some fam and help out. I’ll be back in mid-march for some more fabulous travel blogging!

Celebrating Chester Arthur: Quiz Answers

Thanks for playing, all! The official winner is Matthew, with a stunning 9/10 correct plus 4 additional bonus points. However, since I would expect nothing less from a member of my immediate family, I also award victory to Kelsey, with 6 correct plus 3 bonus answers. Nice work, all. Look forward to your prize—A BRAND NEW CHESTER ARTHUR GOLDEN DOLLAR COIN—being awarded when it is issued in early 2012!!!

On to the answers, so that we can all keep learning together about the legacy of Chet Arthur.

1. Chet was actually born in 1829 and died in 1886. However, there is some confusion in the historical record. Which of the following is true?

b. Chet told people he was born in 1830—perhaps because his wife was a bit younger than him and he wanted to seem more youthful.

It’s unclear why this confusion exists, but many contemporary and later secondary sources report 1830 as Chet’s birthday. The explanation is my own theory.

2. Chet’s father had which of the following occupations?

a. Preacher

Chet was born in Vermont, but his family moved frequently while Chet was growing up due to his fathers work as a traveling Baptist minister.

3. Which of the following positions did Chet himself NEVER hold?

c. Local, elected politician

After graduating from Union College in Schenectady, NY, Chet became a teacher and later served as a principal. He then went into law, which became his lifelong career. Chet never ran for any elected office besides Vice-President.

4. In 1859, Chester married Ellen “Nell” Herndon. Although they had two children, and although Chet was crushed by her death from pneumonia in 1881, their marriage was troubled at times. What was the biggest source of conflict?

c. Slavery, since Chet was a staunch abolitionist and Nell was a Southerner.

Thanks to his liberal upbringing with his minister father, Chet was an abolitionist before this was a popular position. Nell, as a member of a prominent Virginia family, took a different position, and this caused a rift.

5. Which of the following can best be described as an enemy of Chet’s?

b. President Rutherford B. Hayes

The spoils system and the machine politics of Gilded Age New York were good to Chet, and he was a favorite of party boss and senator Roscoe Conkling. Conkling helped Chet rise in the party, and Chet was given the prestigious and rewarding position of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871. When the reform-minded President Hayes came to office in 1876 (after that whole sketchy Compromise of 1877 thing)), he wanted to strike a blow to the cronyism of machine politics and the spoils system and he made an example of Chet by having him dismissed from his position.

6. Chet was included as the vice-presidential candidate for the 1880 election as a compromise to keep various political factions happy. Which was Chet’s political faction?

a. Stalwart (Republican)

At the 1880 Republican Convention, the leading candidates for president included Ulysses Grant, who had already served from 1869 and was seeking an unusual third term election with the support of the Stalwart faction. The Stalwarts were also Chet’s group, and this group was aligned with the political machine and spoils systems. Another leading candidate, James G. Blaine, represented the Half-Breeds (opponents of political patronage), and while John Sherman was not affiliated with any group. Many ballots were taken, but no single candidate prevailed. After 35 ballots, Blaine and Sherman compromised by switching their support to a “dark horse candidate,” Ohioan James Garfield. To appease Roscoe Conkling’s slighted Stalwart faction and to balance out the geography of the ticket, the vice-presidential nomination was offered up and accepted by a delighted Chet Arthur. Mugwumps were Republicans who supported Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland in the 1884 election.

7. After Garfield was assassinated in 1881, Chet became president. Which of the following did Chet accomplish while in office?

f. All of the above!

Of course! Chet may not have accomplished a huge amount during his three years as President, but he rose above the petty party politics of his age, and which had helped make him, and proved to be a strong bipartisan leader.

8. After leaving office in 1884, Chet did not actively seek reelection due, in part, to failing health. Which of the following was the cause of death?

b. Kidney failure

Chet died of Bright’s Disease, a then-fatal kidney ailment now known as nephritis.

9. Which of the following has NEVER been a nickname for Chester Arthur?

a. The Man About Town

All others were contemporary nicknames sometimes found in the press.

10. Chester Arthur made the news briefly in 2008. Why?

d. Because of comparisons with Obama’s “birther” naturalization controversy.

Chet’s father was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada before the US, becoming a naturalized US citizen in 1843—well after Chet’s birth. Although Mrs. Arthur was a US citizen born in Vermont, her family had emigrated to Canada, which is where she met her husband. Although the family were said to have moved back to Vermont by the time of Chet’s birth, there were rumors that the child had actually been born at his mother’s family’s home in Canada. The family lived in Vermont until the time that Chet was six years old. Official documentation of Chet having been born in EITHER Vermont or Canada has never been found. The story of Chet’s unfitness for the presidency based on foreign citizenship was circulated first in 1880 and then in a book published in 1884.

BONUS ROUND: Name as many as you can of Chet’s passions, pastimes, hobbies, and extracurricular activities. Each correct answer is worth one additional point.

I would have accepted many answers on this, but a few are specifically worth noting: dancing, drinking, fishing, throwing parties, fashion, gambling, dining at Delmonico’s, sleeping in, interior design, and Tiffany lamps. If you named Chet’s most important hobby—changing his clothes multiple times per day to show off his 80 reported pairs of pants—you got an additional point.

Now, don’t you feel better enlightened?