[Start playing your hee-haw music]

Turkeys live on my street. And around my street. And on the next street over – and let me tell you,  the dang things have not figured out that if a car is approaching, they should run off the street, not into it. I digress.

[Cue end of hee-haw, begin playing theme from unsolved mysteries]

But there is a mysterious aura surrounding these turkeys.

Why, you ask?

Every year around the summer they appear, and get larger/fatter accordingly. And then, around the end of every November, they disappear. Surreptitiously.

There are several possibilities here:

1. (Being the most biological reason) They migrate. Because it’s cold. And they only have feathers, unlike their neighbors the woolly sheep. (Do turkey’s even migrate? They’re not very aerodynamic.)

And you thought going home for Thanksgiving was hard...

2. They disappear into the bushes for all of winter. Again, it’s cold. (But the chickens seem to handle it ok…)

3. They hide from me. Seeing how many times I’ve very nearly hit them with my car, I don’t blame them.

Really, dude?

4. [The final and most morbid of all the possibilities] We eat them. Thanksgiving + chubby “free range” turkeys has very few outcomes, most of which don’t really end well for said turkeys. But would you want to eat turkeys that ran around all day? Would they be gamy? And I’ve seen some turkeys that are huge; these, not so much.And I like the idea that they aren’t all, you know, stuffed.

It’s a mystery.

Suggestions?

In other news,  instead of making a complete Thanksgiving dinner a la last year, I will this year be making: pies. Gluten and dairy-free pie recipes to be posted soon, featuring pumpkin pie and healthy(er) pecan pie! (I’m also thinking of making mini mandarin orange curd tarts. We’ll see.)

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Despite this summer’s unseasonably-cold weather, I’ve been trying to visit a variety of places recently, or revisit those I haven’t been to in a very long time before school starts, and the mania begins. Here are 3 recent  reasons why I love California!

1. Kayaking at Valley Ford

0811101522-00  A lovely, quiet place to kayak through miles of marshways and waterways that eventually lead to the ocean at Estero. Easy current and a sense of privacy, since not many non-local people know about it. 20100811174038

2. Hiking at Sugar Loaf State Park

cLots of trails –some challenging, some definitely not – that wind up into Sonoma County. FYI: The “Hillside” trail can feel like a bit more than walking up a hill (it burns), but there are thousands of ripe blackberries to snack on, which helps. There’s also a really powerful telescope in the park that opens during certain nights for deep space viewing (think faraway planets etc.) It cost $8 to get in, where there’s lots of bathrooms and picnic areas, and camping as well. 13

3. Beaches along Pacific Coast Highway 1, above Half Moon Bay

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Seriously spectacular fields of flowers. Definitely worth a stop along the highway. I can’t remember the name of this beach, but it has gorgeous yellow sand. 0725101734-01

Happy Saturday!

On my trip…

Things I’m glad I did:

37244_504627653072_309100159_92190_4667758_nPay no attention to the sleepy/silky guy behind me…

1. Brought a large scarf/pashmina: this baby was my best friend – no joke! I used it on the plane, in airports, on the cold bus, to cover the pillows where we slept, for naps, and to keep me warm in general. It went with me every day on the bus in my large bag, and I could not have done without it. It was soft but thick material, so more like a blanket than a gauzy scarf, and I washed it out a couple times. Best decision ever! (P.S. as per the above rice-cake, buy healthy snacks when you can, because dang did I eat a lot of candy….)

gondola Yep, Hail. We smile because we have prosecco. 

2. Packed an UMBRELLA: It rained in every country we went to (my favorite had to be the crazy downpour/hailstorm during our gondola ride in Venice, when we didn’t have the umbrella with us, of course!) and Michael didn’t even want to bring it! I think one of those little purse-size ones are fantastic. Or you could pay 3 times as much in Paris when it’s raining!

DSCN6516Rain at a concentration camp: kind of depressing…

3. Packed over a dozen ziplock baggies; both small and large: perfect for stowing away snacks from breakfast, keeping dirty clothes separate, and avoiding spilling leaky bottles. Some bathrooms where we stayed got so wet from showering that there was no way to keep things like shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes dry, so I just shoved them all in one bag. Also good for stowing things like over the counter meds to get through airport security; I had a huge bag of meds just in case – bring Pepto Bismol tablets and Tylenol, trust me – that were didn’t fit in my 3oz bag and TSA didn’t even look twice. Also pack any meds that are kind of specific, like lactose/lactaid tablets, because you may not find them anywhere.

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Everything in this bag? Please.

4. Used only one small suitcase: before our trip I was worried that size would be an issue, turns out Contiki only cares about weight, not size (some people had HUGE suitcases). Michael And I both took our suitcases on the plane (I like to keep important things in sight) and checked his backpack, which contained large liquids like hairspray and shampoo – there’s no way you can get by for weeks on the tiny supply of liquids they let you bring on a plane (we had to buy more toothpaste and deodorant in France and Italy).

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5. Used one cross-body purse: mine was brown leather (from Nine West) and surprisingly roomy but not heavy, good for both day and night. Cross-body purses are a necessity in Europe’s big cities; even though no one on our tour was robbed, it was nice to feel secure. Buying a leather purse is the best, because it will get a lot of wear (and dirt).

 

 

 

6. Brought a camera with rechargeable battery (and extra imagememory cards!): I don’t know how many of you use regular batteries in cameras, but finding them in Europe is not always easy – plus you can recharge on the bus with an adaptor/converter. I also brought 2 8G memory cards just to be safe, though surprisingly over 800 photos fit on one, but lots of people ran out of space during day trips.

 

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Right: My tour guide and bus driver. Yep.

7. Did most of the Contiki excursions: Since I can’t eat most of the food in Europe (gluten intolerant and all) I originally opted out of some of the activities, like the Tuscan dinner and the German Beer Hall. However we changed our minds about the Beer Hall, last minute, and it turned out to be an amazing amount of fun. The Paris dinner made me sick from all the bread and dairy but such is life. The Tuscan dinner was apparently not so great, so our choice to walk around Florence was a good one. We also didn’t go to the Paris stage show, because it was about 100 Euro, but a group of us took the tube to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, which in my opinion was much better! But I would say not to miss any “cultural” experiences like the Beer Hall! (Though, if you aren’t into the live sex show in Amsterdam I don’t blame you.)

 

8. Brought things Michael didn’t think of at all: like, travel towels; regular ones imageget quite musty in a few days, and these dry quickly. We used large ones from   REI, that fold up quite small (though, after three weeks of use do get stinky inevitably). Like, a voltage imageconverted/adaptor set. Like mini appliances that were fantastic! I had both a travel hair-dryer and straightener that had built in converters. Straightener was a great deal from Overstock.com (It was a Mia Min Pro White Dual Voltage 0.5 InchTravel Flat Iron with Pouch). Also a watch: we kept the cell phone off to avoid expensive calls.

 

But, on the other hand, I wish I had…

DSCN6111 Pretty? Yes. Soap-less at times? Also yes.

1. Brought more hand sanitizer: You can’t find it anywhere in Europe, and if you can, it’s super expensive. There will be many times you will wish you had it, trust me (read: a bar in Florence that was out of soap…ewwghh)

DSCN6015Monaco = dressing nicely, and jacket purchase from H&M.

2. Packed more dressy clothes, more dresses in general: I ended up buying some more clothes on the trip of course (H&M PARADISE!) but wish that I had had more “going out” clothing on hand. That being said, I only had one pair of heels (dressy buy comfy wedges) and that was perfect, I only wore them once. I mostly wore sandals during the day and flats (dressy flats are great to have) during the night.

DSCN6007 Sandals can get wet; a definite plus.

3. Not brought tennis shoes, but more sandals: I thought they would be comfy, but my converse actually gave me a blister. It can be so hot that with all the walking your feet feel much better in sandals, and I could have used the extra space in my suitcase.

DSCN6574 See the super-skinny bottle? Honeyed-Heaven.

4. BOUGHT THE EISWEIN (in Germany): It’s expensive, but if you like it, DO IT. You can’t really find it in the US.

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5. Taken out more money at a time from ATMS: I used them a couple times to take out small amounts (like 50 E) and found out later that while my bank didn’t charge me (B of A) the ATM did – for $5. And by the way, the machine will not warn you about this. Next time I would take out all my money in maybe 2 visits, and then I could also keep track of spending better as well. Also make sure you tell your bank that you will return a couple days after you actually do, because my card stopped working in London the day we were flying out, not the day after I told them we would be home.

image Tis heavy.

6. Brought an un-tested book: as an avid reader, I carried around a large book to read on the trip, but got bored by about 70 pages in and ended up buying something else for the flight home. I also read a discarded copy of The Carrie Diaries on the bus one day, but such light reading only lasts about 4 hours.(Bonus: impress people with your speed-reading skills!) Denser books give you more bang for your travel buck. Next time I would test-read enough of a book to know that I liked it. Or else bring Harry Potter, for guaranteed entertainment, of course.

image Chug the Vitamin C.

7. NOT FORGOT THE AIRBORNE!!: I got sick. We all got sick. Heard of the Contiki cough? Well, I certainly got it – a cough and cold that lasted for awhile. The one thing I forgot on the trip was my bag of Emergen-C packets and my airborne – which are hard to find overseas, and if you buy them at the airport, are like $5 a tablet. Outrageous. I was too scared to take cold meds in Europe, because I don’t take decongestants, so was therefore kind of sick half the time. However, if you like to roll the dice, you can get some seriously powerful cold pills over there…

8. And most of all, STAYED LONGER! Many people on our trip stayed in Europe longer, traveling to other places. Seeing that it’s so expensive to fly, I truly wish we had had more time, and Michael didn’t have to go back to work. Next time, I would save more money, and stay way longer. Sure, we were travel-weary, but getting there is half the battle. Now all we want is to go back!!

DSCN5866 Next summer, let’s do it all again…

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Contiki Group, European Highlights, June 2010

Way  back in January, when we booked our tour to Europe, I had some reservations about traveling with a big (50) group of people. I didn’t know if we would all get along, or if the whole trip would be full of a bunch of booze-cruisers. I was also worried about the whole nature of a tour group; it’s never fun to stand out as “tourists” where ever you go. But regardless, we booked, and off we went.

And it was AWESOME.

But I’ve decided to give out some friendly advice to those who might decide to travel with Contiki in the future, because it isn’t for everyone, but it can also rock for many folks.

So, disclaimer:

rometour

If you don’t like people, do not travel with a group. (This goes without saying, but anyway.) You will spend a lot of time with people. However, if you are like me, and enjoy people but not all the time, you will be alright, because there is plenty of time to be alone and/or go do things with a small group of people. In fact, much of your sightseeing will be done this way .

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If you think people who drink are pathetic losers, do not travel with Contiki. This is not to say that you have to drink on tour, but there will be  drinking. There will be hung-over people on the bus, and occasional vomiting (which I never had to really see, which made it funnier than anything else). But if you can’t stand people who drink, then don’t go! Having a drink or so in the evening is a lovely way to get to know people, and relax after a long day of traveling. Also; Contiki is HUGE in Australia (70% on tour were from down under), and Aussies hold their drink, or at least they try very hard to. And practice a lot. (hence big beer). Plus: Beer halls. 

beerhall

If you are a seriously devout religious person, you may not like Contiki. There will be swearing, inappropriate jokes, random sexual  incidents, songs about sex/drugs/rock ‘n roll,  pot-smoking in Amsterdam, hookers in random places, and may/may not be a guy on the bus who enjoys running around naked. It’s not like there’s burning of the cross or any terrible atheist conversations, but…this trip is for grown-ups, who aren’t so squeamish. However, there were a few more conservative folks on the trip, who loved it. And there are lots of fabulous churches, so….?

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Yay God!

If you hate buses, and riding on them for hours…  well that’s pretty much how you get around Europe. Europe is BIG. Sorry! But there are fun times to be found on the bus. Crampy legs, but also excitement.

ostrich

If you must sit in the lap of luxury…. you’ll have to pay more money. Now I’m not cheap, but paying more for the same sleep kinds sucks. That being said, Contiki (on Budget tours anyway) takes you to nice places to stay (mostly cabins that feel like little houses and have bathrooms) and feeds you about half the time. They shock you with the worst cabins in Paris, (right) but things get progressively better from then on. Sleeping bags are cool when you’re in Europe, as most things are.

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If you like planning, and can’t stand other people planning things for you, you will be in Hell. This happens to be my main reason why I did go, so… Let’s just say, it’s simpler to plan a trip to one places than 30, including different countries over thousands of miles in which you don’t speak the native language. That being said, having someone take care of the details is super lovely, especially when you are confused by public transit alone. But you can plan whole days of FREE time in most cities.

image WTF, Paris

If you must travel with 5 suitcases full of outfits “just in case” you are also screwed. One suitcase , per person, is allowed on the bus people. But this does make it easier a) to travel the airways and b) to not lose your luggage. It’s much easier to keep track of one suitcase. And there will be outfit repeats. Yep. 

DSCN6015DSCN6301 

Same dress, different country

There are many things I could say here, but most important of all, I firmly believe that I did not miss any important part of Europe, or “traveling” because we went with a group. If anything, this experience was better because of the people we were with.

37584_448937738178_734173178_6119449_2390993_n Aw, group love

[Also: if you are a couple, there were other couples to hang out with, and also non-couple people to hang with when you got sick of/fed up with/cranky with your own partner. Which, over a long trip, will happen.]

Next Post: Top Things I wish I had known/done before, and Things I’m glad I did.

I promise to be back soon, with renewed vigor. But I offer up this small smattering of images to explain my absence and distraction:

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More to come soon? Indeed.

Good things recently.

[If you aren’t into the whole “glass half-full” thing, you might want to leave now.]image

 1. Being sick: You may be thinking “But illness is generally a bad thing….,” to which I say,  yes, it does suck. Especially when your ears are completely stuffed up and you have a Latin final during a time when you wish you could be at home watching re-runs and trying not to get sucked into the abyss of a head cold. But, what does not suck is when you start feeling better, and every day you wake up you feel progressively more like a human being again. Ah, to be able to appreciate the everyday normal workings of one’s sinuses. Plus, whenever I start getting down about my allergies (which are at their best right now, as I live in the capital of tall-growing sneezy grasses) I remember that they aren’t as bad as the recent evil cold.

image Ok, so I don’t have a window, but still…

2. New Job! So, as of this week, teaching English 99 will soon be over. Classes themselves are officially over. No more lectures about topic sentences and thesis statements, no more fervent 1a.m. grading sessions. I’m a bit sad not to be teaching at SSU anymore, but I was also getting a bit weary of it all. But, I will not be unemployed in the Fall – you’re looking at (well, reading at) SSU’s newly-appointed WEPT person. Which means an office upgrade; I get my very own little office (with a door and everything!) in a corner of SSU’s administrative building with which to do lovely WEPT-related tasks. I can only thank God (or the patron saint of employment, whatever) for giving me a reason to be away from home and to have a space of my own (well, for a time anyway) at school where I may escape into the small, bureaucratic world of filing, phone answering, and email replying. 

3. Finishing Latin: One whole year, down! Now to decide if I want to submit myself to the slightly-masochistic realm of language one again. I’m also considering French…whenever I look into Ph.D programs the language requirement makes me feel rather inadequate as an intellectual. I’ll work on it.

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4. Europe Trip: Less than 2 weeks away! Am I freaking out a little? Yep. Am I still in disbelief that I’m going, and that I actually have the money to pay for it myself? Indeed. Very, very excited.

5. Gluten-Free Cinnamon-Sugar Donuts: Enough said.

Overall, general bounciness. I still have a pile of work to do before the semester ends, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. A super-shiny-travelly-light.

Travel is very much on my mind these days, and so check out my new travel blog Nat’s Travels!