Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day 1 Newark to San Jose

Enough cranky complaining from me, hhhhheeeerrrreeee'ssss COSTA RICA!!


Jam and I decided to take a trip before starting(him)/resuming(me) grad school. We tossed around a few ideas and he suggested Costa Rica. HOLY CRAP, I could not believe it - I'd wanted to go to Costa Rica for a few years, but given it's somewhat remote location and reputation for being an eco-tour type place (as opposed to luscious resort type place) I didn't want to push it on poor Jam. Given my enthusiasm for nature, hut-living, cold showers and pit toilets, as well as dangerous vacation locales (ahem, Kenya, hi) I didn't want to be the dominating biologist girlfriend who's like 'um we can only go to places where I can add to my birdwatching life list." Jamaal however, had done research on his own, and being a nature-lover himself (he still talks about seeing a caracal on Animal Planet) had his mind on Costa Rica. After a little internet research, we settled on a tour with GAP Adventures. I left Boston on Friday 13th for NYC, and after a brief visit with my gal Melu, Jam and I walked to the bus (on the way a pigeon shat on him. Good luck!) and headed to Newark for the night!!

Saturday July 14

After an early wakeup call, we headed to the International terminal at Newark Liberty. I've flown international out of Logan and JFK, so I was really bracing myself for a bitch of a time getting through the check-in line and then security. Surprisingly, we were waved to a short line at Continental, then made it through a short security line. Well I should say I made it through. Jamaal got stopped. At first I was irritated that he got stopped because I thought "ok I made sure he didn't have liquids, neither of us have a knife, now they're just being petty or profiling or something" though Jamaal does not exactly look like the terrorist type, lol. So I'm sitting at the end of the security line as they open Jam's bag and there it is. My red mag lite flashlight. That I made him carry the night before. Jamaal offered to hold some stuff for me because I took his liquids in my checked baggage, so I handed off the Mag Lite and didn't even look to see where he put it. As the TSA guys were showing Jamaal how the flashlight could be used as a weapon by swinging it around in the air, I was overcome with guilt. Crap. So Jamaal says to me "what do you want me to do with it" Of course the TSA guys think he's talking to NO ONE and that he's crazy and so they're like 'SIR we do not know what YOU MEAN' I say "oh I'm so sorry, the flashlight is actually mine' They re-exhibit the weapon skit with the light "see this is how it could be used as a weapon" I tell them I understand, and really I appreciate their kindness because my past TSA experiences have been...let's just say...highly negative. I tell them I'll throw it away if they want, or ship it home. They're like "chill dude" and tell me just to go back and check it. Sweet! Jamaal is a trooper and goes back to the desk. I decide to be a good girlfriend and buy us water on the other side of security. As I pay, my cell rings. I ignore it til I get outside. It's Jamaal. "You have to come back" he says "they put both checked bags on my boarding pass and they'll charge me another $100 to check the backpack with the Mag Lite" "Ok" I say. I hang up. And realize I have more than 3 oz of liquid that certainly are not contained in a quart-size ziploc. CRAP AGAIN!!!!! Luckily the lady in the Hudson News held them for me. What nice people! Jamaal and I were both singing the praises of Newark Int'l as we boarded our direct (yes, direct, beautiful beautiful non-stop direct) flight to San Jose.

The flight was ok. I hate flying. Well, ok, I hate taking off. Flying and landing, no prob. So Jamaal got to hold my sweaty hand from the moment we stepped on the plane for about an hour. Sexy. But then it was time to eat, and I started to relax, especially as I wolfed down an omlette and croissant and yogurt, pretty good for airline food, I thought. I couldn't really see out the window cause the guy next to me sort of blocked it, but I felt bad for him; he was sweating like a fiend and clearly nervous about flying, so I let it go. Of course the kids shrieking every time the plane shifted did not help. Now I have nothing against kids or kids on airplanes, and I totally get that babies cry and can't help it....but when your 8-year old is screaming at the top of her lungs every time we hit turbulence, causing the plane to erupt in a chorus of spanish hail Mary's, oh that's when I get irritated. Of course to land in San Jose, the plane has to descend fairly rapidly because of the green mountains that surround the city, so that led to more screaming. I was happy to reach the ground!

Immigration was fun because there were colorful billboards and tv screens broadcasting ecotourism adventures. Plus people were really nice. Costa Rica seemed pretty cool so far....

We made our way out of the airport easily enough, and met our transport and two of our groupies, Lois and Peter. A butterfly landed on my pants! Another omen of goodness! We arrived at Hotel La Amistad after an adventurous ride through San Jose. At La Amistad they were pretty nice - one of the owners got us a decent city map and marked off the local territory. We decided to have an adventure and find the Mercado Central. WOOHOO!!!

First we had to fuel up. I know we're supposed to be having a cultural experience and all and normally I would never ever do this outside of America BUT we went to Wendy's. It was as if we were drawn there by unseen forces. I mean when you are that frickin' hungry, you need something guaranteed. To make up for the fact that we were consuming American fastfood in Costa Rica, Jamaal ordered (and I attempted to order) in Spanish and asked about some vocab words, and I got 'pollo picante' instead of just a burger.....I'm sure we should've given another place a try, but Wendy's did it for us just then, so we reasoned we could get away with our breach of delving into Costa Rican culture just that one time.

After a delicious sandwich, we hit the streets. San Jose is a gorgeous city, even in the rain. Though it has a lot of modern amenities and American landmarks (Wendy's, KFC, 7-11, McDonald's, Burger King, I think I saw a Blockbuster, too) it has these gorgeous mid 19th century buildings throughout, one of the prettiest being the National Theater. There are also several small parks sprinkled throughout the city center, and I loved them because they were filled with familiar tropical plants we grow as ornamental annuals up here in New England, and with PARROTS!! Crimson-fronted parakeets were everywhere, like pigeons here, in the light fixtures, on buildings and in the trees in the parks. Of course because it's me I walked around San Jose hoping that unlike pigeons here, people LIKE the parrots and don't kill or poison them. I'm not sure what the policy is on that, but I'm thinking the parrots win in the end because there are so many of them.

After traversing the streets for a LONG TIME we finally found the Central Market. Yay! Jamaal and I stocked up on souvenirs (ok so Jam bought gifts for his friends. I bought a dress) we decided to walk through the parks and head back to the hotel. We were pretty tired. Plus we wanted to dry off and not look like tourists for a little while:

Tee hee. We both tooks naps, though I admittedly looked for birds out the window for a majority of the time. Then our tour guide called. I could hear Dawna's voice through the phone as Jamaal talked to her. Perky, I thought crankily. We headed downstairs to meet the rest of the group. I was skeptical, I won't lie. But then a girl who had posted on the forum introduced herself, followed by another. Then a bunch of us discovered we'd grown up in Massachusetts. Jamaal talked to the girls from Toronto because he's been and loves it there. Dawna generally got us all enthused. "Wow" I thought, "these people are really cool." I started to get ridiculously excited for the trip. We all went out to dinner together to get to know each other better. I sat near the middle so got to enjoy conversing with everyone. People had such interesting lives, and the wide age-range between all of us made it all the more fun talking to one another. When we went to sleep that night, Jamaal and I quickly realized that we were in for one hell of a good trip.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Did I put up the book roll to brag about how many books I can read in a year? Not really at all. Did I put it up to 1. keep track of the books I have read (so I don't read/request them from the library again accidentally, I hate that!) and 2. challenge myself to keep reading. OH DEFINITELY. Now I know not everyone spends as much time on public transportation as me, that's for sure, but I still think it's important to make time in your life for reading, even if it's before bed or on your lunch break or on Sunday morning, when you wake up early and can't go back to sleep but don't want to get out of bed yet.

Naturally I am pleased that I am approaching the 47 books read 3 books heard mark, but I'm also aware that most people probably wouldn't have time to fit that into their busy schedules (though honestly, I'm a pretty busy person...I guess I do read fast though) but I was incredibly dismayed to read this. Yup, that's right, 1 in 4 Americans last year read NO BOOKS. Not a one. What? A quarter or so of everyone that lives in this country, with a Borders, Barnes and Noble, or better yet A PUBLIC LIBRARY on every corner or at least in every town did not pick up a book? I think that's a huge disgrace. My favorite excuse was 'Reading makes me sleepy.' If I could meet that guy in person, I would probably whack him over the head. With a book. Because he probably hasn't seen one in so long, he wouldn't recognize it as a weapon. Or the guy who says "if I want a story I'll rent a movie" Ah yes, shall we rot our brains just a bit more?! Americans get all on edge when we are accused of being ignorant - I hate that too - but c'mon, a quarter of us couldn't even read one book. ONE BOOK - AND IT COULD'VE BEEN DANIELLE STEELE, THE LEAST YOU COULD'VE DONE WAS READ!!!!!! I wonder what the averages are in other countries. Hmmm

I suppose I am overreacting a bit, but I am still reeling from the shock of it all. Maybe it's because of what surrounds me: my mother is a librarian and always reading, my father who doesn't enjoy fiction always has some large tome in his police car, to read the moment he has some downtime, my sister is voracious and has to layer and stack all her books just so to even fit in her bookcase. When I run out of books from the library, I go to my sister and ask for a book. My grandfather has a selection of "man fiction" (Follet, Brown, etc) at his fingertips, while my grandmother is ALWAYS reading something and reads so much that the librarians in Braintree know her by name and wondered where she was when she didn't go to the library in the weeks after her surgery. Let's see - boyfriend is in a book club and always reading, and kind of flips out if he doesn't have bus reading when he visits, my friend EE has a stack of cool books in her apt, Melu has bookcases packed so full they may fall down, and when I mentioned to my friend Rachel I was reading a Shakespeare bio for bookclub, she could list off the top of her head 3 or 4 possible titles, then analyzed the one I was reading, and she was also able to keep me awake on the way to NYC by telling me stories of CRAZY plays that she's read. Even my coworkers read incessantly, and we have a little book loan program on Laura's desk. Most of the people I see commuting on the subway are reading, and that's my favorite part of public transportation, the fact that you can READ. I guess I'm just so much a part of the reading community and so into it that I never even thought about the people who didn't read.

Anyways, there's my rant. I mean I know it won't cause America to implode, this lack of reading, but I feel there's reason to be horrified that a quarter of the population didn't even read one book. I mean if you have a 300 page novel, you don't even have to read a page a day to finish in a year. Sad! I guess I'm just subconsciously compensating - and enjoying every second of it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Fitness Week

So. I've been spending a lot of money on food. No, not at the grocery store, fast food at McDonald's, Subway, the cafeteria at work, etc. Not only was it rough on the wallet, but it made me feel fat. Ok to everyone who is winding up their arms ready to pitch stones at me for saying I felt fat, hold off, because I didn't say I "was" I said I "felt." I'm not about to starve myself or become anorexic, so put your rocks down :P

That being said, I did feel kinda gross. Bloated. Squidgy. Just generally not well. I decided that I'd begin eating a healthy diet. Dinners are pretty damn healthy at my house, so I decided to focus on breakfast and lunch, both of which I eat at work. I made up a menu, heavy on ingredients I can buy at the local farmers markets that take place nearly every day of the week around Boston. I had a well rounded breakfast planned and a very delicious lunch with organic salad and tomatoes. I bought fresh peaches and early apples at the market. Last night I eagerly looked forward to day 1 of "Allison's Fitness Plan"

It was broken by 11am.

I didn't think the iced herbal tea I got this morning was that much of a breach. First of all, it's herbal tea, no caffeine, and I got it with only a little sugar. Ok, cool. But then I got to work and looked in the mirror. I looked hideous. I slept late this morning, barely had enough time to throw on my clothes and get in the car, and I hadn't looked in the mirror. My eyes were bloodshot and eyelids puffy, face pale, complexion uneven. I had not a drop of makeup on except lipgloss, which looked garish against the paleness of my face. My hair, let's not even GO there. Ew. Then I walked in to find my coworker had returned from vacation and was telling the story of moving her daughter into college over and over to any family member that called on her cell phone. I downloaded and eBook and tried to drown it out. Then my Kenyan friend, the one who finally got a job, emailed me to tell me that he doesn't get paid this month at all and his sister needs her $170 worth of school fees by Thursday. Ugh. For craps and giggles I looked at the Tufts bookstore website and discovered I need to purchase $295 worth of books this year. And to add insult to injury a friend completely vetoed a getaway weekend I was hoping to plan for November and said that she'd do it "some other time" cause she totally wants to "hang out before 2008." And with that I sent my fitness plan to f*ckitville and bought myself the largest chocolate chip cookie I could find and pounded a coke zero. Since these complaints in the grand scheme of life are incredibly minor, I figured this would help me out.


It didn't. Even though Pilates is on the schedule for today I'm cranky and tired and look ugly as hell and just want to go home and pull the covers over my head and stay there til tomorrow morning. Can't do it though. I'm on the fitness challenge. BOOOOOOOO

**edited to add

AND could somebody PLEASE tell me how you get coworkers to stop touching your sh*t on the printer. If one more person picks up my stuff in their pile and takes it to their desk or sorts through everything on the printer and come up behind me, tapping me on the shoulder to get me to turn around so they can hand me a messy and out of order pile of things I've printed, I may SNAP. Ugh.

Friday, August 10, 2007

One of my Heroes

So my mother, sister and I, and sometimes my father, have been watching the miniseries adaptation of Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance." They focus on WWII from the late 1930's to the end of the war in Japan. The movies focus around a naval officer and his family (played by Robert Mitchum, who was a bit old, but good in these films nonetheless). From what I've heard they're not 100% historically accurate, but what I like is that they really take time to deconstruct the beginnings of the war on the European front and the ethics of getting involved in the European front from the American perspective. Though the main character starts out as an attache in Germany and later he and his sons serve in the Pacific most of the nitty gritty details of what leads us to the Pacific front are left out - I think because the attack on Pearl Harbor is a pretty blatant reason for immediate action rather than a drawn out ethical discussion as happened with the European front.

Anyways, it's been a good history lesson so far. Since my grandfather is on the young side (born in May 1931 and therefore too young to serve in the war) and my other grandfather died in 1955 I don't really know much more about the war than what I learned in school and what my grandparents could tell me from their perspective, which is still incredibly interesting since my grandfather grew up in Quincy beneath the shadow of the Fore River Shipyard which employed thousands during the Depression and probably even more during WWII as it cranked out aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, thus making his family live better than say my grandmother's family, whose parents lost their jobs in the beginning of the Depression thus forcing them to live on the income they earned by making bread and selling it. Obviously things changed in the 40's because I think my grandmother's father got a job in the shipyard too. Because of the significance of the shipyard, these men kept their jobs there and did not join the military. I know that other family members did serve in WWII, but I do not think they survived the war, or if they did, they were not living when I was born, or I am too young to remember them.

Which brings me to Mr. Lawton. Mr Lawton and his wife went to my church, but we didn't formally meet them until Mr. Lawton hit my dad with his car while my father was crossing the street. He rolled up on the hood and got a good look at the guy then rolled off. Mr Lawton went into a parking lot while my dad kind of laid in the street. Some lady freaked out and ran out of the car and wanted to call an ambulance, but my dad just shook it off (as he often does, it's kind of sick that he shakes off getting hit by a car or cutting his hand open, yet whines like a baby about having a cold. Deranged). My father walked into our church kinda pale and my mother says "you looked like you just got hit by a car" and laughed. My dad just said "I DID!!!" and we went upstairs to thank Baby Jesus for not summoning my father to the heavens that day.
After the service Mr. Lawton and his lovely wife came up to us and apologized PROFUSELY. Then they gave us their insurance information "In case you want to sue us" he said, and Mrs. Lawton bought a jar of homemade jam from another church lady as an apology gift. Luckily my father was gifted with a healthy sense of humor and made a joke of it, saying that you couldn't just "buy him off with a jar of jam." The Lawtons were clearly shaken up over this so we talked to them to calm them down a bit and to reassure them that everything was fine. This was the beginning of a great friendship, actually.

One day my father noticed Mr. Lawton wearing a hat that said "USS Bismarck Sea CVE-95" My father asked "were you in the Navy??" and Mr. Lawton pretty casually was like "yeah. I was a pilot in WWII. The Bismarck Sea was a carrier." My dad gets off on planes. Make it a plane that lands on a boat in the middle of the ocean, sh*t you're golden. My dad was awestruck. "You served in WWII on a CARRIER in the PACIFIC????!!!!!" "Yup" said Mr. Lawton. He was always so casual about it. Later my father said "I'm pretty sure that the Bismarck Sea sank during the war" I was sort of like "yeah ok" but never paid too much mind to it. A few years later, after Mr. Lawton's wife had died and I started landscaping for him, he was sitting on a lawn chair watching me plant impatiens, listening to a big band AM radio station. He said to me "Did I ever tell you about the time my ship sank??" Sh*t I thought. This is gonna be good. There's nothing I like better than learning a bit of history and hearing first hand narratives about stuff like this. I mean I enjoy listening to my parent's stories of growing up in the 50's and 60's, but it's not too often you meet a WWII vet willing to tell you the story of how his ship sank. I had been in Mr. Lawton's house and seen pictures of the ship and the pictures of him, very handsome in his uniform and pilot's gear, but had yet to hear any stories. Cool. I sat back on my heels and said "No, but I'd love to hear it." This is how I remember it:

"Well," began Mr Lawton, "let me see.....so I was a pilot in the Navy and I flew planes off the Bismarck Sea in late 1944. In early 1945, we got ready to back the invasion of Iwo Jima. It was February, and the fight was in full swing. On the 21st I took off for some action. I went out and came back in, landed safely. I had just taken off my gloves when I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. It was a Japanese plane. We got kamikaze-d. The men on the ship tried to put out the fire, but then a second plane hit us. The ship was a loss, and we were ordered to abandon ship. I remember looking for a way off. I knew my only option was to go overboard into the water, which wasn't the best thing for me because I'm a bad bad swimmer and the seas were rough, but the fire left me with no choice. I was grateful I wasn't injured in the attack because it would've made getting off the ship much harder and more dangerous. My only injury in the end was rope burn because after I got out of my plane, I had taken off my gloves so sliding down that rope did a number on my hands. So overboard I went. Now the swells were just unreal, right over my head. Luckily there was a piece of wood floating by and I grabbed it. For hours and into the night I kept that board under my left arm and took big sweeping strokes with my right - did I tell you I didn't really know how to swim? Probably silly when you think about it, working on a ship and all. But luckily I knew enough to stay afloat and ride the swells. The good thing was was that there were two destroyers with us, and I knew they'd pick us up...eventually. I just focused on them and kept paddling along. Sure enough after a while, someone came and got me right out of the water, just like that. Then we watched the flag being raised on Iwo Jima. It was a proud moment. " He sighed, remembering a lot of things, I imagined. Then he straightened up and said "after the war I came home, and Edwina and I moved down to Providence so I could go to Brown on the GI Bill. We lived in married students housing and had a little baby, she was so patient while I studied. Though of course there were other military wives with children so it wasn't so bad for her. Then I worked at the bank. And now here I am."

He smiled at me. I just sat on his driveway in awe of this incredible and incredibly nonchalant man. Sure Mr. Lawton was but one part of a much larger force that fought in WWII but to me he's a living legend and an incredible hero. I feel so blessed to have met him and to have had the privilege of listening to his story first hand. I wish I could capture the wonder of hearing that account first hand in this blog, but I know I can't. I captured in though, not just because "War and Remembrance" made me think of Mr. Lawton, but because Mr. Lawton is in a nursing home now. He sort of lost his will to go on after his wife died and he declined after that, to the point where living on his own was no longer an option. Though I haven't visited him there, my mother says his memory seems to be fading a bit, maybe he's just getting older, maybe he has the first touches of Alzheimer's, I don't really know. What I do know is that I wanted to write down the story of this extraordinary man for the world to see if they like. I've thought about putting his name on one of those websites that's out there, for survivors of the Bismarck Sea, but I don't know if that'd be appropriate or how his family would feel about it, but they can't do a damn thing about my personal blog. So there it is world, there's the story, a story which to me is nothing short of legendary.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Photo Contest

I submitted a bunch of pics to a GAP Adventures photo contest. Please click the link and vote for me!!! Anyone can vote and you can rate the pictures from 1-5. While you're there, check out their adventures too, we had a fabulous time with them in Costa Rica.


Click that. Then click any of these:


Tuesday, August 07, 2007


So yesterday I remember that I can download eBooks from my local library for FREE! Since I was sick of all my music, I went to my library network's website and searched for a book to listen to at work. I chose something mindless, something that I could miss portions of if I needed to zone out and focus on my work and still pick up later. So far the book isn't half bad. It's a story about a woman who moves back to her hometown when she realizes her widowed mother is developing dementia. Meanwhile all this chick can think about is her high school sweetheart who disappeared when she came back from a year at a French boarding school. Cliche, sure, but it wasn't too bad. Until the narrator read this line:

"Had she been a kitten, she would have purred under the sheer pleasure of his touch"


hahahahah at least it's making me laugh!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

ALERT: Crafting Hiatus Cancelled (you knew it wouldn't last)

My oldest friend (oldest as in the friend I've known the longest - we were born 9 days apart and pretty much have known each other since then) announced that she's expecting in January.

She's having a baby. A winter baby. Who will need an assortment of warm and cuddly things. OH HOORAY!!! Crafting hiatus over, must go plan new baby's knit wardrobe. And of course, there will be a quilt!


I laughed so hard I cried when I read the most recent post this morning, which included this gem:

"Of course, this is the same person who is afraid to say “bomb” out loud around the monitor in Leta’s room because the signal might get picked up by a CB radio owned by the government, and next thing you know we’re scrubbing toilets at Guantanamo"

The woman is just plain and simple FUNNY. The end.