Sunday, December 9, 2012

#79 - Catching up on the Silver Screen

A few years ago, my then-boyfriend was always surprised to find that I had not seen one particular movie or another.  So, I asked him to make me a list of titles that he thought I should see; a list that I also added to.  Some of what was listed were truly classic films - like Casablanca (which I still haven't watched) and It's a Wonderful Life (which I did) - but most were just popular films that I missed for whatever reason.  I should add that my family did not go to movies when I was young; there wasn't a theater in my hometown, and my parents didn't really have the cash for such things anyhow.  I did see many movies with friends when I was a teen, but then had a long period in college, grad school, and my first job where money and time were just too tight for me to spend much of either at the theater.

I've also always had a hard time just sitting and watching a screen.  Reading a book can keep me motionless for hours, but it's a rare movie that engages me to the point that I don't start thinking of other things I can do around the house as it progresses.  So, progress on this list has been fairly slow.  However, I did watch the tenth movie off this list last night.  So perhaps someday ... I'll see Casablanca after all :)

#58 - Operation Baking Gals

This time of year, I tend to go a little overboard with baking cookies.  It's become something of a start of the holiday season ritual for me.  I make a list of the types of cookies I plan to make that year, go shopping for such things as a case of butter (36 pounds for those of you who have never had reason to buy butter in quantity), and spend the better part of a week and a half in my kitchen baking.

Most of what I make goes onto trays that I give to friends and co-workers.  Since I work for a local government, this leads to such interesting things occurring as an "official" email going out saying the cookies have arrived at the city offices and the fact that I am one of a very select group of people who actually receives a Christmas card from my local public works department (how many of you can say that?!).  I set aside a few of the more interesting types to go along with me to my family's celebration.  And there are some plates that I take in to work to just hand out to people who look like their day is overwhelming them and perhaps some cookies would help.

However, there is another batch of cookies that I save to mail off to troops serving overseas.  I belong to an organization called Operation Baking Gals - yes, it is gender-inclusive despite the name - that tries to bring a little taste of home baking to the military serving overseas.  While I only participate in the winter months, there are rounds of baking going on all year.  It is more personalized than many of the other programs I've seen where you write to "any serviceperson".  There are individual teams that bake for particular soldiers or units.  Each baker can choose to join as many or few teams as they like.  You get a brief description of the person you are baking for (as well as likes and dislikes) and send the boxes directly to that person (part of joining the organization is a promise that you will not share names or addresses with anyone).  If you like to bake, it's a fulfilling organization to be a part of  .... give the website a look (the link is above) for a more complete description of how the process works.

Contents of a typical Baking Gals box that I sent out - I always try to include a book and this particular soldier wanted nuts, so there was also a can of cashews included - the rest are homemade cookies and candies.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

#100 - Tired is no excuse!

I am lucky enough that, even though I live in a very small town which is quite a drive from any large cultural centers, there are many arts opportunities available.  We have a fairly active community theater program, the high school does the normal plays and music events, there are two arts organizations that arrange performances and showings, etc.  However, I tend to be lazy and not want to go to see a performance after I've spent 8 plus hours at work.  So, this goal was to remind myself that I CAN see things that I'm interested in right here in town ... I just need to get out of my house and go.

The first performance was a fall community theater production of The Church Basement Ladies.  My friend Sarah was playing the role of Karin Engleson, so I had extra incentive to go see this one.  I had read the book that it was based on several years ago and grew up in an extremely active Lutheran family, so I got all of the in-jokes in the script.  It was a fun show - made more special by seeing it performed by people I know.

The second event was a dance performance by the local ballet program.  Dance is not my favorite performing art, but this particular group has lessons in the building where I work. It was very interesting to see the choreography that went along with the music that I had been hearing for weeks.  In many cases, the actual dances were very different than what I had envisioned.

The next performance was the local high school's fall musical.  They chose Honk! - which is the story of the ugly duckling.  I realized as I was watching that the seniors involved had been preschoolers when I moved to town ... that made me feel a little old. :)  One of my favorite bits of stage dressing included remote-controlled fish balloons for the underwater scenes!

Another community theater performance I saw was The Drowsy Chaperone.  This musical is one that especially speaks to regular attender of musicals - many in jokes in the frame story.  Again, it was fun to watch the people I know on the stage - including several who haven't been on stage for a few years.  I think that my friend Peter was probably the most perfect choice of casting for the narrator of the frame story possible as he is the mainstay of the theater community here.

The last performance was one that came to town rather than a local production.  I have the good fortune to see the Rose Ensemble last Monday.  This group from the Twin Cities is simply stunning - the last time that I heard vocal pieces that perfectly performed was at the Sydney Opera House on my visit to Australia.  I also enjoyed the guest artist who was traveling with them performing on period instruments.  I had never seen a shawm before though I immediately recognized the sound from several CDs of early music that I own; it was wonderful to put a visual with the instrument's voice.

I am telling myself that I need to do "after-work" performances more often and even have plans for next week to do just that ...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

#98 - Surprises by post

It's a wonderful sort of feeling to open your mailbox and find something personal there - a letter or package rather than bills or catalogs.  Even better is when that something comes out of the blue.  My family is particularly great about sending little surprises like this - and I try to reciprocate.

However, as fun as it is to trade care packages with my family, it's also nice to occasionally reach out to friends who don't expect anything.  A box of cookies, a movie, a book have all made their way to various people who weren't expecting anything for any reason.  I hope that each small box made someone's day brighter!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

#38 - Following the News

It's an oddity of the area where I live that you cannot pick up television stations without either a cable subscription or a satellite dish.  Since I know I wouldn't spend much time watching, I don't bother to pay for either of those options.  I also despise listening to talk radio and spend very little time just surfing the internet.  So, sometimes I feel like I'm in a bit of a news vacuum - especially when it comes to national and international events (with local things I'm usually ahead of the curve due to the number of city meetings that I attend as part of my job).

So, with this goal, I tried to correct that problem as well as accustom myself to using my new Kindle for reading.  I set myself the parameters that I had to read all of the articles in the e-version with the exception of the sports section.  The two days that I missed on my Kindle (I was out of town at a wedding), I went back and read in paper form later.  I also tried to read as much of it as time allowed before I left for work - most days this was about half - to see if I felt more informed in my daily conversations.

Kindle vs. paper format - hmmm...  It was interesting to see when I dealt with the daily papers coming through the library what the e-version of the paper left out despite both being a paid subscription to exactly the same paper.  I was prepared (from reading reviews of e-subscriptions) to not see the comics, horoscopes, stock reports, etc - I did not expect that actual full articles would sometimes be left out.  Some of these are included in the Sunday paper at the end/beginning of the week - why?  I didn't see an option to only receive a Sunday paper, so it didn't give the Sunday editions extra value.  I'm not really sure why articles in the variety section (especially those dealing with fashion) did not include the photos they were explaining while other e-articles had stock photos (often reused) not included in the physical format.  I did like the fact that reading the articles did not involve flipping back and forth through several pages in a section.  Overall, I am less than convinced that the evolution from print to e-versions is finished - the regular variety columns (comics, etc mentioned above) could be included as easily as a photo and more photos overall could be included plus the reused (and purposeless) stock photos could be eliminated.

The news ... it's been about 20 years since I read a daily newspaper regularly.  I feel like news reporting has changed a lot since then.  There are many more articles regarding the daily lives of celebrities (I use that term loosely to include athletes, political figures, entertainment figures, etc) than I recall - all in the news sections, not variety where I would have expected to find them.  If I wanted that sort of information, I would read People magazine.  There is much much less science news than I hoped - I still find some specific internet sites to be the best source for this.  The lack of science reporting makes me a little sad because I find it to be one of the most hopeful, exciting, and relevant areas of change in our world.  I found that articles on international news tended to come in clusters about a topic and then the topic would disappear with no concluding story (I think this stems from a reliance on larger news aggregates for this type of information) which is a little disconcerting.  The biggest surprise was the business section; a part of the paper that I had never paid much attention to in the past.  I found a large amount of actual relevant information here when reading closely that explained price changes I'd noticed in stores, informed possible changes that I might make in the way I travel, and many other life areas.  I won't overlook this section anymore.

Feeling informed ... I have many casual conversations with people as part of my day.  I was curious to see if, after starting this goal, I felt more informed about things people might bring up.  I did feel more informed and sometimes I would refer to something I had read, but often I was the one who made the connection, not my conversational partner.  This part of the goal seemed to be more a personal benefit than a conversational one.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

#4 - The harp and I

When I was in elementary school, some of my favorite books to read were The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.  I wished I might grow up to be Eilonwy - or at least be able to visit the lands of Prydain which were based on old Welsh legends and have some adventures there.  Unfortunately, neither of those wishes came true ... perhaps I will someday visit Wales, but I would be very surprised if my visit included finding long forgotten magic swords or travels with the Fair Folk.  And, somewhere along the line, the plan of becoming a beautiful outspoken princess with red-gold hair and a shaky ability to cast spells was discarded in favor of just being myself.
My much-cherished copies of the Prydain books - given to me by my sister Diana.
However, one part of the stories stuck with me - Fflewddur Fflam's harp.  This was no ordinary harp (of course, Fflewddur was not an ordinary bard - just a king who liked to travel, couldn't pass the bardic knowledge tests, and sometimes stretched the truth); it could virtually play itself and the strings would break if its owner told a lie. 

So, for my 29th birthday, I bought a harp.  Specifically a celtic-type, low head lever harp just like the one in the books (without the magic, of course).   I purchased it from Stoney End in Red Wing, MN, and I'm going to give them a plug here because ALL of my transactions with them have been fantastic - they build the harps onsite and are very patient with beginners with lots of questions.
My harp shortly after I purchased it

When my harp arrived, I had never touched a harp before or even watched one being played for more than a few minutes.  I did have the advantage of being able to read music - I had a couple of years of piano lessons when I was young (wish I would have stuck with them longer), played flute through high school (plus oboe one year when our band director was feeling ambitious and wanted a wider variety of instruments), and have sung in choirs off and on since I was about 5.  I quickly found that harp was my favorite instrument ... the hand position feels very natural to me and, as long as it is tuned, it sounds beautiful even if you hit the wrong string.

I could soon play easy tunes - including ones with both hands.  The problem was finding time to advance past my beginner's level.  Playing for a length of time does require some regular practice or your fingers get sore quickly.  Plus, the old "use it or lose it" maxim definitely applies.  I had hoped that this goal would help me with progressing to more complex songs.  I'm not sure that it did ... I've found that if I'm doing something as an obligation (even a promise to myself), my mindset is different than if I'm just trying to explore/enjoy.  So, playing regularly has paid off with the songs I already did play, but I didn't try very many new ones because my practice sessions have been shorter.  I will be going back to a "playing for fun" schedule as my time permits - I hope though that my practice sessions will be more frequent than they were before I started working on this goal.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

#56 - Taking the train

I've always loved the descriptions of traveling by train in the books I've read.  I can imagine the thrill of seeing the American West by steam train - perhaps viewing bison from the windows - or the adventure of riding in a Pullman sleeper car and awakening to an entirely different scene than where you fell asleep.  I'm not an engine fanatic by any means ... no model railroading for me ... just the thought that taking a train means an adventure.
North Shore Scenic Railroad - the diesel engine, open air car, and part of the converted boxcar that serves as a concession stand.

With this in mind, I invited some of my young friends - Silas and Oren - along with their mom - my good friend Amanda to take a day outing to ride the North Shore Scenic Railroad based in Duluth.  I had often seen this train go down the shore when I lived in Duluth many years back, but never had a chance to try it out.
Oren and Amanda at the playground

Silas "drives" the ship at the playground.

We started our day in Duluth with a leg-stretching stop at the playground near the Great Lakes Aquarium.  After this, Silas wanted to take me out (he had a pocket full of change) to Red Lobster - I suspect that the lobster tank was the main attraction since we spent quite a bit of time examining its inhabitants.
Waiting in line to board - the double decker car is in the background.

Oren and Silas are ready to start their adventure.
We got to the Depot station just in time to join the line for the train ... there were several cars to choose from.  We started in the double decker coach - in the top naturally.  The guide said this car was air-conditioned; however, at the top it was still fairly warm.  We had great views of Lake Superior as we went along.  I was also surprised at the number of people on the lakewalk that stopped to wave as we went by.  The boys were very excited - Oren in particular.
I can't recall the name, but the tour operator said this ship is currently the largest on the Great Lakes.

Oren acts as super ship spotter while Silas points out the smaller craft.
One of the things that was particularly evident from our elevated view was the debris left from the flooding that Duluth experienced last month.  Though the city has done a great job of cleaning up, you can still see along the creeks and culverts bits of trees (some quite large) that were violently washed to the lake in the storm.  (Unfortunately, my camera batteries gave out before we reached the Lester River, so I don't have a shot of this.)  Another viewing highlight was all of the ships in the harbor - both pleasure craft and shipping vessels.

 The trip lasted 90 minutes - including time spent on the siding as the engine moved from one end of the train to the other to head back to the station.  We used this time to explore some of the other cars  - including a trip to the concession car which has been converted from a boxcar.  I have to admit that when reading the Boxcar Children books as a child, I always imagined the boxcar as much smaller - no wonder they thought it would make a good house.  We spend the last part of our trip in the most elegant (and coolest) car watching Duluth slip by.

After some time exploring the adjacent museum and the engines and cars you could actually enter and explore (my favorite was the incredibly high seat in the snowplow engine), we were all ready for the trip home.
Our drive home featured some interesting cloud formations!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

#28 - Beating all the levels in an electronic game

First, I am so glad after a two month gap to FINALLY be able to post about completing something!  I am still working on the long term goals daily, but, as I mentioned this spring, my time for this project is limited at the moment.  And now, on to what I finished.

Originally goal #28 was to beat all of the levels in Zoo Tycoon; however, I switched computers about a year ago and lost all of the progress (and it was significant) that I had made in this game.  Not wanting to put in all the time with a deadline to regain the levels I lost, I made the decision to switch to ZooWorld - a social game on Facebook. That was going fairly well - I actually made it up to level 99 out of 105.  And then I hit the dreaded flowering dogwood tree!  To earn this particular plant, you need to have your ZooWorld friends send you stuff ... specifically trees ... even more specifically a certain type of tree that you can use to get better trees eventually leading to the flowering dogwood tree. Now I hate pestering people for gifts - even of the cost-free online variety - and not many of my Facebook friends are into games.  I started looking online for tips from other people.  What I found was depressing ... one person had worked out that if you could get one tree a day from a friend, you would work up to the flowering dogwood in 18 years.  Yes, you read that correctly - YEARS!  I checked the math; she was right.  I was averaging about one tree a week; I decided it wasn't worth it.

However, I still wanted to finish all the levels in some game.  Enter my latest piece of technology - a Kindle Fire.  In the past two months, I completed all of the levels of not one but two games.  The first - Enchanted Kingdom : Elisa's Adventure - was made up of many smaller match and switch type games.  There was a nominal plot, and I am happy to report that Elisa now is peacefully ruling her kingdom after discovering her true parents.  The second game - Paranormal Agency - was a simple find the hidden in plain sight object game.  Both were free; both were easy to play for 20 minutes at a stretch before bed.  My original game of Zoo Tycoon still waits for me to go back and regain my progress, but without any particular pressure this time.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

#75 - Arbor Day, a few weeks late

There's a saying that the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago and the second best time is today.  I moved into my house 11 years ago and have meant every spring to plant a tree in front.  This is the year it got done.  I originally was going to make it a boulevard tree - mostly to make mowing the front yard easier - however, the city where I live is currently experiencing some controversy over boulevard trees and who can plant them and what species the tree needs to be.  This discussion is not something that I wanted to be come involved in, so I decided to just put a tree into my front yard instead.
Waiting for planting
I did lots of thinking about what type of tree I wanted.  I cut ornamental flowering trees and fruit trees out of the list fairly quickly.  I don't want to deal with picking fruit at exactly the right time, having other people enter my yard to pick fruit because I haven't had time to pick it yet, having squishy fruit on the ground, or dealing with people coming along and cutting flowering branches off a tree that I don't want pruned.  (I've dealt with all of these situations in the past - not fun!)  Then next "category" to go were trees that are common in this area.  While I love them, I can see them walking around town or going out to a friend's house.  I also decided that I wanted a TREE - meaning a large shade tree, not a quick-growing windbreak tree or an oversized shrub.  After much thought, I decided on a bur oak - a tree that I associate with some good memories.  Though they aren't common in my area of the world, they will grow here, are highly drought-tolerant, and meet all of my qualities mentioned above.

Yesterday, I was visiting my parents' farm, and, late in the afternoon, my dad and I went out to dig a tiny oak that he had found in the old cow pasture.  I didn't take photos of that part of the tree-planting process, but I want to mention that it was surrounded by violets (one of my favorite spring flowers), so I'm hoping I might get the bonus of some volunteer violets next spring.  This tree could well be the child or grandchild of an oak that I remember growing about 50 feet away when I was little.  That old tree was the site of quite a bit of play time for me growing up - one of the limbs was near the ground and it had a little niche that I used to store my acorn "tea cups" in.
Starting to dig

Today, I dug the hole in my front yard for my little tree's new home.  It's in the ground, and I'm hoping for the best.  It looks so tiny right now, but I can squint and imagine that in 50 years it will be providing shade, homes for birds and squirrels, and acorn teacups for some other child to find on the sidewalk.
One tree against the dandelions!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

600 days in - and I'm still loving the time I spend on the goals

I had great ambitions for the new year and my DayZero project; however, life has interfered ... some things changed in my job as library director and I am spending many more hours at work (and bringing home paperwork).  Although the part where I am working at home as well as in my office will change within a couple of months as I get caught up, I don't foresee my hours spent at work dropping significantly any time soon.  This fact makes me frustrated since I would love to have MORE rather than less time to work on these goals (and to do other things as well).  However, I'm reminding myself that the purpose of starting this project was not to beat myself up because I couldn't finish everything on the list.

So, rather than talking about what I'm working on now, I'm going to use this post to celebrate some of the wonderful things that the DayZero project has brought into my life.

1.  I went to England!  Alone!  And saw everything I possibly could in the time I had there.  Ten years ago, I would have never believed that I could do this.  Five years ago, I would have been very hesitant about trying it and wouldn't have been comfortable going to the theater alone, walking in a big city without a map, and certainly wouldn't have chosen to do things just because they were there and so was I (I would have needed a plan instead of just winging it some of the days).

2.  I have been reminded how fulfilling it is to do nice things for other people.  One of the problems with having a public service job is that sometimes you feel very taken for granted because people expect you to do everything for them.  It was wonderful to work on some of these goals (#15, #17, #20, etc) and have it be a choice to brighten someone's day.

3.  I feel like I'm learning stuff again and not just letting my mind turn into sludge ...

4.  I love to be creative and some of these goals have been great in giving a direction to that creativity.  Working on the party for my 40th birthday was so much fun ... I'm still getting comments from people on the fun that they had and I'm thinking that I need to do one again ... perhaps a wild west theme this time.

5.  It's made some healthy changes in my life - more veggies, pushing myself in my morning walks, bringing a healthy lunch to work, etc.

6.  Though it isn't always fun, I'm getting house projects done ... including last summer's ice damage repairs that weren't on the list.  I'm enjoying seeing the perennials I planted last summer start to reappear.  Every time I go into the bathroom, I wonder why it took me so long to get rid of the awful wallpaper that was there before.

7.  It makes me happy to open my mailbox and find a card from PostCrossing(#97).  I love seeing what people from all over the world have chosen to send me.  HUGE HUGE THANKS to all of those PostCrossing folks who have actually taken a look at this blog and chosen to send a card related to one of the goals!!!!!!!  Special thanks to Sophie from the Netherlands whose seeds are going to be started next week!

8.  I'm doing more things with my friends instead of indulging my hermit tendency when I get away from work.  Having goals like hosting parties or game nights gives me less of an excuse to put off cleaning my house and inviting people over.  Some of the other goals are getting me out and about to see shows and other things - generally with a friend.

And, finally, every single goal that I've been able to make as complete makes me feel like a winner in some way.  I may not be climbing Mt. Everest or running the Boston Marathon or discovering the cure for cancer; however, I am doing something that makes my life improve in some way.  I will be very surprised if I can complete the rest of the goals in the next 400 days, but I'll be thrilled with every single one that I do finish.

And, yes, I'm already thinking ahead to the DayZero Take 2 list for the next 1001 days when I'm done with this cycle.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

#70 - Photos worth displaying

When I look at my list of challenges, I see several recurring themes.  One is photography.  I've always been fascinated by pictures  - the ones my parents had in albums and slide reels growing up, the weird snapshots I took with my first 110 camera that I got for Christmas when I was in 5th grade, the moody ones that my sister Janet took while pursuing her art major in college...  

However, other than a 2 minute introduction (put the film here, press this button to take the shot, here's how to adjust the focus) to a totally manual 35mm SLR when I was editor of my high school yearbook, I've never had any sort of formal instruction.  I could tell that some of the photos I took were rotten and others better, but I didn't know why.  A few on each roll of film were what I considered good.  And, about every 5 rolls of film, I took something better than good - more or less by accident.  So, this goal was about finding 10 photos that I'd be proud to tell friends that I took. (I'm also working on a distance learning course in professional photography with the New York Institute of Photography to try to make my photos more consistently turn out the way that I want for goal #41).

When I started working on this goal, I purchased ten frames (8x10" size) in a neutral dull silver color to fill as I went.  When I was working on redoing my bathroom, I decided that was the perfect location to display my "frame-worthy" shots.  All ten frames are now full, and I will probably end up buying a few more frames (there's still some wall space) to put up.  I plan to switch photos in and out of the frames as my mood takes me (I've got eight extras right now that didn't quite make the cut).  And here's what's currently in the frames ...
Hyde Park rose - taken 10/16/10, London

Medieval staircase at V&A Museum - taken 10/16/10, London

St Paul's Cathedral - taken 10/15/10, London

The back side of the parliament buildings - taken 10/17/10, London

Steps to cabin - taken 4/29/11, near Burntside Lake

Sunset - taken 7/6/11, Burntside Lake

Senor Iguana - taken 2/18/12, Tulum

Jaguar siesta - taken 2/20/12, Xcaret

Lifeguard station just after sunrise - taken 2/17/12, Playa Del Carmen

Scarlet Macaw pair - taken 2/20/12, Xcaret

Plus one that isn't on the wall simply because I didn't like how it looked with the color of the frame.
Underground waterfall - taken 2/20/12, Xcaret

Sunday, March 11, 2012

#61 - Game Nights

The beautiful inlaid game table that my Dad made for me a few years ago.  Each of my siblings has one as well; they all have different woods (mine uses lilac, cherry, walnut & others) and an unique design.

I've always liked playing board games; however, when I was young, I was at a decided disadvantage in playing with my family since my siblings were all significantly older than me.  Since we lived out of town, I didn't have the impromptu marathon Monopoly tournaments that I've heard city kids talk about.  But, I do remember going through a phase where I would play all of the tokens myself since everyone else was busy ... my favorite color generally won.
Word game night as everyone gets introduced to the rules of Quiddler
Gaming with my family has changed as my siblings had kids, and I was no longer always the youngest one at the table - definitely a disadvantage in playing something like Trivial Pursuit. My favorite family game is Canasta, but it's also the game where I have the hardest time being a gracious loser! My least favorite game that my family regularly plays is Nine Hole Golf; I find it incredibly tedious.
Some choices for the dice games theme

In high school, my group of friends played games fairly regularly.  One of the guys always had the latest ones ... thanks, Barry, for introducing me to Outburst, Encore, and many others I still love ... as well as Pictionary which I still find incredibly frustrating!
Clue players with their favorite murder weapon - from the night of traditional board games

As an adult, I kept collecting games as gifts at the holidays.  However, when I was working on my DayZero list, I hadn't had a regular opponent for several years, and I missed the friendly competition.  So, the idea of game night began...
Card game choices

I invited a mixed group of friends, but, from the first night, it's turned into a "girls night out" event.  The mix of people has been a little different each time.  I had to reschedule some from last summer due to my major house projects.  It's pretty clear to me that I have a couple of friends that are really there to play the games and the others are there more to have a night out; however, I think that everyone is having a good time.
The ending board of Wit's End - notice how Nina (the winner) is in the center and the rest of us were still on the outer edges!

Since I own so many games, I gave each night a theme.  Thus far, we've had: card games, dice games, gambling games, games for two players, games of wits, party games, tile games, traditional board games, trivia games, and word games.  The theme approach seems to work pretty well; I have a stack of 5-6 games on the table when people get there, we choose one to play first, and sometimes we move on to a second choice as the evening progresses.  If there's a theme that someone really doesn't like, they know in advance and can make other plans for that night - I have the feeling that next month's "music games" theme may be sparsely attended as people fear they may need to sing.
The ending spread of Qwirkle on tile game night

Although I have my favorites, it's been fun to take out some things from my cabinet that I haven't played for a long time.  And, if you're looking for something new to try, here's a few of my favorites:
  • Bananagrams - it's like Scrabble with ADD
  • Fluxx - pay attention, the rules change ... comes in many different quirky varieties
  • Dicecapades - who can not love a game that includes 100 dice and has mental, trivia, and physical challenges
  • Trivial Pursuit - but only the first two editions where Arts & Literature is still a full category
  • Sequence - both strategy and luck needed to win
  • Wit's End - it's hard, you need to know trivia, but it's also got some interesting lateral thinking and riddles involved

Some of my game collection.  Notice that they no longer all fit into the space I designed for them 10 years ago.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

#9 - Mexico trip

Warning: this will be a photo intensive post!

My only previous visit to Mexico was an afternoon trip over the Arizona border when I was about 5 years old ... somehow it didn't seem right to count Mexico as a country that I had visited with only that much experience.  My friend, Nina, was very happy to act as travel companion and visit someplace that was warm during the cold Minnesota winter season (ironically, the weather has been milder than normal since we made the decision to go), so off we went.

Part of a dwelling in
 the Coba ruins

fire ant highway -
 we were very careful to step over it

A glyph illustrating the 5 points of
 the ancient Mayan compass - one for
each cardinal direction - north/white, east/red,
south/yellow, west/black, and center/blue-green

Mayan glyph on ball court
representing a decapitated jaguar
 holding its own head.

The bottom of the pyramid at Coba

Looking down from near the top of the Coba pyramid -
as you can see, it was very steep!
My favorite experience from the trip was climbing the pyramid at the ruins in Coba.  We had a great day as part of a small tour (only 7 people including the 2 of us) from a company called YukaTreks.  The guide was full of information - I wished that I would have had a recorder to store all the facts and Mayan words that he told us.

The roof of the cenote with an airhole that
 also let in some light.

The water was exceptionally clear and was
from 12-40 feet deep.

Nina shows no concern about swimming
under the stalactite.

fossils in the limestone walls of the cenote.

Our trip also included one of Nina's top experiences of the trip - swimming in a cenote (a giant "bubble" in the limestone underground that has partially filled with water).  The Multun-Ha cenote is located about 100 feet underground and has a small wooden platform built over some of the water so that visitors can swim in the water. 

Can you eat out in Mexico without getting a Margarita at least once?

Appetizer plate at Yaxche with regional specialties

Kinich chicken at Yaxche

Chicken in achiote marinade at Frida's

Chicken mole at Frida's
Another fabulous part of the trip - authentic Mexican food!  I bought a cookbook of regional specialties and plan to use  some in my work on goal #22.

One of the many lizards at Tulum sunning itself

Temple of the Winds at Tulum

Bas-relief of the descending god

Another daytrip that we took was to the ruins at Tulum.  This site is unusual for it's location on the seacoast.  We didn't have a guide this time to point out all the details, but it was fun finding things for ourselves and watching all of the lizards that now call this area home.  They were on paths, masquerading as architectural details, and occasionally fighting for the best patch of sunlight!

Scarlet macaws were everywhere at Xcaret

Butterflies feeding at Xcaret

Jaguar at Xcaret

Jaguar siesta

A chicle tree - the marks in the bark are to extract resin for chewing gum.

Nina makes friends with the dolphins

Sea turtle at Xcaret

The other benches were mostly taken - can't imagine why no one was sitting on this one :)
The third day trip that we took was to the eco-cultural park Xcaret.  This day had lots of everything - many animals, sea creatures, historical and cultural presentations, and a spectacular evening show that was divided between historical aspects of the Mayan culture (the demonstration of how the ball game was played using only hips to hit the ball was very interesting) and dances from different areas of Mexico.

These parade costumes made my old high school marching band uniform look cool (in the temperature sense) in comparison!

Dance performance

Talented fire performer

Carnaval ride for kids

Everyone shook their stuff!

Carnaval dancer

Dancers in the parade

The dancers were always happy to stop and catch their breath

This group of dancers were dressed as angels and willing to pose
A glorious surprise of the trip was the fact that we had a front row seat (more or less by accident) for the Carnaval parades 3 out of 4 nights.  Playa's celebrations were amazingly inclusive ... there were the hot chicks shimmying down the street, but there were also children and grandmas strutting their stuff.  The main purpose just seemed to be to have fun and show off the glorious costumes; it was great to watch!

Playa before the crowds appear!

Lifeguard station at dawn

Beach chairs waiting for sunbathers!
Playa del Carmen is at its heart a beach town.  While I'm not a big sand/surf girl, Nina loved it.  I did get up early one morning to walk in the surf and take photos though!

I saw this cat one morning sitting in the sidewalk seating of an upscale wine bar ... doesn't he look like he's waiting for the waiter to show up with the menu?

Yes, those are hookahs on the table.  Yes, they were in use in the evenings.  No, I didn't ask what they were smoking.

Many of the Mayan restaurants had costumed men outside.  Nina is pictured here with the one from Frida's, a restaurant where we ate several times.
Of course, there are always a few moments of every trip that don't really fit into a category.  So here's three last photos that show some fun moments I caught ...