2014 in Travel

Two-thousand fourteen was not my most travely year, but it was a good one. I kicked off 2014 in Panama, having just celebrated NYE with a transit through the Panama Canal and a cruise ship celebration. Winter and spring saw me toiling through my teaching credential classes at Stanford and student teaching. Summer featured two separate US/Canada cruises on separate coasts, both planned almost on a whim (at least for me), separated by a trip to Boston for reading workshop training. In the fall I began teaching full time (with the one travel highlight of chaperoning a trip to Yosemite). I spent winter break relaxing, with a New Year’s trip to Death Valley that featured all of us in bed by 10.

Bar Harbor, ME, July '14

Bar Harbor, ME, July ’14

So, for 2014…

  • New countries: 2 (Panama, Colombia, on Jan 1 and 2)
  • New Canadian provinces: 2 (Quebec, Prince Edward Island)
  • Places revisited: Las Vegas; Alaska; Victoria, BC; Boston; Bar Harbor, ME; Nova Scotia; Yosemite; Death Valley

Upcoming travel in 2015…

  • Iceland with the fam during Presidents’ Week (is that how you punctuate that?). Northern Lights will be sought and jackets will be worn.
  • Sweden in July with Claire. A trip we’ve been talking about since 2008 is finally happening. Much ABBA and lingonberries planned.
  • Balkan trip with the fam in July, featuring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia.
  • Somewhere in Central Europe TBD for a few extra days.
  • Hopefully NY in Aug for a professional development course.
  • Whatever else comes my way!
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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!

Disney World Trip 2013: The Why and the What

I think we should start with a definition of terms.

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Ro and me in Animal Kingdom

Disneyland = Disneyland Resort  = Disneyland Park plus Disney California Adventure, with three hotels and a small entertainment district, is in Anaheim, CA. Disney World = Walt Disney World Resort, including four theme parks, 20+ on-site hotels, several entertainment areas, two water parks, etc., in Orlando, FL. Orlando/Central Florida is also home to Universal Resort (Universal Islands of Adventure plus Universal Studios parks), Sea World, Busch Gardens, etc.

Since I’m from California, a 70-minute drive from Disneyland, I understand why some were confused when I said I was planning a trip to Disney World. You see, Disneyland is a daytrip destination, and one I’ve been visiting since early childhood (I estimate I’ve made 30+ day-long trips, plus many shorter trips during the one year I had an annual pass). But Disney World is a vacation destination. And one I’ve been blessed to visit (as a sentient, non-infant being) five times now.

Think about the logistics of choosing a Disney vacation. Disneyland has two parks, and unless you’re a die-hard fan (and there are plenty of those), you’re going to be content with 2-3 days at Disneyland itself. Fortunately, the rest of Southern California has plenty of other appealing sites (other theme parks, city, beach, etc.), and it’d be easy for any traveler to plan a Disney-cum-SoCal vacation of any length. Orlando, on the other hand, doesn’t have much besides Disney and the other theme park destinations. After all, the area was basically a swamp when Walt and Co. bought up the land (secretly, via several dummy corporations) explicitly in order to birth a self-sustaining vacation destination. There’s lots more to do at WDW, and rightfully so—why else would you plan a trip to Orlando? And if you are planning a trip to Orlando, there’d better be enough theme parking to keep you occupied throughout your trip. So for my family, too, WDW is a special and all-inclusive vacation destination.

Much like I’ve sometimes been a defender of cruises, so too have I sometimes felt like a Disney defender in explaining to friends (let’s be real: non-friends) that my adult sibling, mother, and I were planning a trip. But after all, there are different ways to travel, and Today I Am Staying In This No-Electricity Sumatra Bungalow vs. Today I Am Lining Up for the Tomomorrowland Rope Drop Mini-Marathon are both things I enjoy.

Moving on. For me, planning the trip is often almost as fun as the trip itself, and Disney is no different. I’ve mentioned before the proud moment of my first trip Disney World, just before I turned 11, when I read our Disney guide book cover to cover and handwrote a ride-by-ride schedule. In the twenty-first century, planning is both easier and more potentially neurotic. Minute-by-minute itineraries can be programmed with software from touringplans.com, and can be adjusted in real time. Today, significantly more people also make advance dining reservations than they did 10 years ago, meaning it’s even more important to plan meal times and secure reservations months in advance (during busy periods).

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Hogwarts at Islands of Adventure

My recent WDW trip came about surprisingly—one day my mother and I were talking about how nice it would be to visit the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios, the next decided to take it seriously as a trip concept, and within a week we had booked hotels. And at least two dining reservations.

We spent five full days in Orlando. Reasoning: we wanted to see our three preferred Disney parks (yes to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom; no to Disney Hollywood Studios), Universal Islands of Adventure (home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), and one other thing to make the trip slightly longer. We chose Universal Studios because we’d never been.

We ended up visiting six parks: even more success than I’d hoped! We didn’t buy our tickets for the theme parks in advance, which I feared might have been a mistake since we probably could have saved on tax had we done this. However, if we had bought our tickets in advance we wouldn’t have had the flexibility to realize, at noon on our Islands of Adventure day, that low crowds plus efficient touring meant we had virtually finished with the park, and had time to head to Disney early, buy a 4-day park ticket instead of a 3-day for a minimal upcharge, and hit the fourth Disney park (Disney Hollywood Studios) after all! This strategy turned out to be very successful.

Tomorrow I’ll elaborate further on the bests and worsts of our trip; stay tuned.

This is just to say

I don’t have much news that would be cause for an update, but somehow it still seems to be time for an update. It’s now been almost three months since I’ve officially been home for good. So that’s interesting.

The main activity I’ve been undertaking since returning from China has been job searching. Not the most fun, but obviously necessary, and I suppose it’s been an interesting learning experience in and of itself. Many, many cover letters and a fair number of interviews later, it’s looking like I’ve narrowed in on something and may have job in hand in the near future. Updates on that will come if/when it’s finalized.

But meanwhile, most of my time is spent in similarly leisurely pursuits as I enjoyed during the first part of my time home in August. A lot of lunching. And reading, and Interneting, and TVing, and movie-watching. There have been some mini-adventures like a couple more trips to the Bay Area, tickets to Stanford football games, and theater-going (most recently, the new musical Bring It On at the Ahmanson, meaning a new entry for my musicals spreadsheet!). Overall, a lot of relaxation.

China seems far away. And often it’s the bad that comes first to mind when I reminisce, not the good. But at the end of the day, and in this season of Thanks, I am still grateful that I had the experiences I had and that I’m happily back at home for this period of in-between time.

Redlands, Home Sweet Home

It’s strange that I’ve only been home for 2.5 weeks now. It seems like China was forever ago. Thanks to my visit home in July/August, when I underwent the majority of the reverse culture shock, this time around it’s been easy to slip back into old routines and familiar settings. And it continues to be a delight.

There are certain vows I made while in China–like that I would never complain about the weather again–that I have so far held up with ease (you call this too hot and humid?! I would have *killed* for this kind of weather any day in Chongqing!). And I’m also maintaining my generalized delight with America. There are still moments where my ability to solve simple problems thanks to a shared cultural context takes my breath away, or where I realize with a start what a luxury it is to be able to speak at full speed and with full range of vocabulary 100% of the time.

But more important than any language- or environment-related perks of living in the US again is the more generalized delight and pride I feel in being an American and living in the US. I know, I know. But it’s true what I’m telling prospective employers: I’ve never been prouder to be an American (the song that relates to this is still my cellphone ringtone), and I am so thankful for my China experience in part because it has made this so much clearer for me.

So, I job search. Especially after teaching in China and seeing some of the pros and cons of that system, I’m interested in working in education and on education reform in this country.

After the party was the after-party, and after the party was the hotel lobby, where I posed with the bride, Ashley, and another close friend, Lauren.

Meanwhile, spending time Redlands has been fun too. I was thrilled that I was home in time to be added as a last-minute bridesmaid for the wedding of my close childhood friend, Ashley. No, you don’t want to know how much time, money, and effort went into securing the cobalt-blue chiffon bridesmaid gown the week before the wedding, but suffice it to say it was all worth it.

The wedding line-up. I'm on the faaaar left!

Last weekend was jam-packed with wedding activities (errands! luncheons! after-parties!) and it was a delight. Yes, the wedding party was rather sprawling (count ’em: two ministers, 11 bridesmaids including two maids of honor and one junior bridesmaid, nine groomsmen including one best man, two ushers, two attendants (ie, guestbook ladies), three flower girls, and two ring bearers), but it was an elegant, well-organized event through and through. Well, except for the wedding party’s ride on the “party bus” from the ceremony to the reception, which got a little inelegant….

So, Redlands has been a pretty good place to be lately, and so far there certainly aren’t any regrets. In the next couple of weeks I’m doing a Return Tour to visit Matthew in NY and possibly job hunt in DC and/or the Bay Area. Stay tuned.