Many Travels – Kentucky

Post-Puerto Rico, I spent a total of one night in Boston, hanging out one last time with friends, washing laundry, and repacking things to go home.  Then, as soon as I’d spent a night in Indy, Shelly and I and the parents were off to Barbourville, KY to visit Shannon at ASP where she was working for the summer. ASP – Appalachia Service Project – is a program similar to Habitat in which volunteers  rebuild and repair housing for those who cannot afford it in Appalachia.  It’s a really great project, and all three of us girls have volunteered with them before.

I’ll get the random details of the trip out of the way first, shall I?

1. This weirdo bug is the one we found on our picnic table the first night out when we were grilling with the volunteers Shannon works with and the families they help:

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2. Immediately outside our hotel room was the parking lot light.  By ‘immediately’ I mean we had a pair of giant glowing bulbs almost tapping on our windowpane that were as big as my torso.  Great for sleeping, awesome design for a hotel.

3.  My father mentioned the phrase “bait and switch” and Shannon mistakenly thought he said “bacon switch”, which is both funny and delicious.

4. Shannon early one morning made the comment that she sounded like a man.  Somehow I misheard her.  I thought she said “Hold, Pokemon.”  Evidently we’re all hard of hearing, some more than others.

We had a great time visiting with Shannon’s staff and families, had time to go to the pool at our hotel, played lots of games (including Killer Bunnies) and visited many of the local sites.  For those of you who don’t know, the area is famous for a few firsts.  The first house in Kentucky was built here in 1750 by a group led by Dr. Thomas Walker.  In order to confirm a charter of land granted in the area, a dwelling had to be established and an acre of corn had to be harvested.  Although the log cabin he built was not permanent, and the group left the area to return east after fights with the local Indians, Dr. Walker did take the opportunity to explore the area and name it after the Duke of Cumberland, whom he admired.  It was also in this area that the first Civil War battle in Kentucky was fought.  Finally, the Sanders Cafe is is located not too far away.  For those of you who don’t love and honor the Colonel, this is the location of the first-ever KFC.  Sadly, we did not have enough time to stop by.

Below are some of the pictures we took of Shannon and the families she’s been helping this summer.  EnjoP1030481

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Here’s one of Shannon with one of their cooks.  As usual, they enjoy themselves together.

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Finally, on the way home we were able to stop off and visit Nick for lunch.

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 6

El Yunque (Josue, Corina, Stacey)

For our final day in this wonderful land, we had one more necessary stop – the rainforest.  El Yunque has several trails, tons of waterfalls, and is easily accessible by road.  Of course, the ‘trails’ themselves are actually paved, which the department of tourism declares is because of native Puerto Ricans’ love of roads.  And because pavement is more preventative of erosion and storm damage from things like hurricanes?  Regardless, it was still beautiful.

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First we drove up to a couple of the waterfalls and took lots of pictures, trying to avoid the spurts of showers that were inevitable.  We didn’t go down into any of these waterfalls, since they were steep enough that there was too much danger of flash floods.  We drove up to a second waterfall as well, hoping to take a shortcut over the mountains, but unfortunately the road was closed.  Of course, we didn’t figure this out until we drove past a nice old man on a tractor, who started yelling.  Evidently there’s no real signs, other than the ‘road closed’ gate that was standing open – he just let us know so we wouldn’t have to turn around and come all the way back when the road just stopped in front of us. Still, we did get to see our fair share of beautiful flowers.

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So, then we were off on an ‘actual’ trail – La Mina, so named because of an old nearby mine.  We followed it down to a waterfall and back, and it was a beautifully pleasant walk.

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Josue actually got into the water, though Corina and I had enough of sitting around wet in our kayaks the day before.  On our way back, we investigated the picnic and barbecue areas along the trail, both the well-kept and the mysteriously abandoned.

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The story of El Yunque is in itself fascinating, both as a story itself and an explanation of the natural world around us.  According to Taino belief, El Yunque was the home of the god of good.  Legend was that this god was the protector of the island, giving shelter to native tribes against outsiders, both human and supernatural.  In particular, El Yunque was a defense against Huracan, the god of wind, storm, and hurricanes that probably came from Mayan belief systems.  Not only did the good god of El Yunque protect the Taino from outside beliefs and cultures, but the mountain itself is a natural defense against hurricanes for the interior of the island.

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Corina and I ended the day running errands to get all the appropriate ‘touristy’ souvenirs.  We came back to the house sweaty and tired, to the wonderful surprise of no water in the house.  Fortunately we were able to shower nearby.  We went to bed as early as possible, since we were getting up at 4 am the next day to make our flight.  Of course, our Garmin once again decided to take us in the completely wrong direction, and could not tell us how to get back tot hte car rental place we’d rented it from.  Hooray!  So after lots of circling, frustration, and eventual panic about missing our flight, we were able to turn in the rental and shuttle off to the airport.  Everyone was very nice about zipping us through the produce examiner for our bags, and through security so we would not miss our flight.  Thank you, Puerto Rico!

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 5

San Juan (Corina, Josue, Stacey)

The next day was beach day!  We stayed close-in around San Juan to try and conserve as much time as possible, since we were going to Fajardo to visit one of the bio-luminescent bays that night.  So, we debated long and hard about about the most beautiful, least crowded, and most picturesque beach we could visit in the area.  And if we did go a bit out of our way in the end, it was well worth it.

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Josue met a new friend to go snorkeling with who had been ditched by his own friends, Corina got her palm trees and beautiful blue water, and I got a bit of sun, even if I did end up burning my tush the last 20 minutes we were there.  A very positive start to the day.  Evidently I lost at least one of my favorite beach pics, or I took it with someone else’s camera, because I’m missing the one of Corina’s face in profile on delicious beach.  Oh well, maybe later.

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We got back with just enough time for each of us to shower and change clothes for our bio-luminescent experience.  Actually, we left in plenty of time to get there and have dinner before our tour at 8:30.  Josue knew a great place nearby that has red snapper and all kinds of good seafood, so I was really excited about that.  Of course, freaky PR traffic struck again and we were basically sitting on the only two-lane road into the protected bay area for at least an hour, possibly more.  The number of people driving on sidewalks, pulling U-turns in spaces much to small, or generally making a nuisance of themselves was far too many for me to count.  Just the thing I needed to get my driving skills back in tip-top shape!

Of course, then there was the tour drama.  We had made reservations online about 4 days previously for the Sunday night 8:0 pm tour, but had never received a confirmation email.  Of course, when I made the reservations, it said took at least 36 hours for processing.  So I called them on Saturday when we still hadn’t heard anything, and left a message with my number.  No one called back, and on Sunday, of course no one was even in the office.  So we decided to just wing it, and have a nice dinner if we couldn’t go on the Kayak tour as anticipated.

Well, evidently that particular tour group doesn’t operate on Sundays.  They didn’t mention anything of the sort online, there was no indication of the fact when I made the reservation, and no one bothered to let me know this even after I’d called.  Still, we were able to slip in with one of the other tour groups that did operate on Sundays with no problems.  Of course the traffic meant we barely had time to scarf down some fried food before we took off, but we were grateful to be able to actually go.

So, the tour itself involves paddling partway around a sheltered bay in two-person kayaks, heading into a narrow mangrove-filled channel, and eventually ending in a protected lagoon under the open sky.  Once there, your guides give a short talk about the dinoflagellates that give off that sparkly glow, and you’re allowed to paddle around a little bit and stick your hands in the water.  The entire lagoon and mangrove environs are free of light pollution, so it’s beautifully dark, and the sky sparkles are mirrored below as you move.  Technically you’re not allowed to go all the way into the water, but since fewer tour groups operate on Sundays, the guides let us bend the rules.  So I got to go swimming surrounded by watery fire, which was amazing.  Unfortunately the waterproof camera we’d brought didn’t have the capability to really capture what we saw, but I will cherish in my mind the sparks that seemed to fly from my fingers due to so many drops of water.

Of course, there were also drawbacks to the experience.  First of all, quite a few people on the tour had never been in a kayak before.  The basic idea of steering was lost on them, and even speed was a problem.  There were plenty of bumping boats even on the way in, and in the darkness of the mangroves it was virtually impossible to see, even with the glow sticks on the front and back of each kayak.  Going in Corina and I hit a few trees ourselves, though we generally managed to avoid other kayaks.  Low-hanging branches were also a difficulty.  Though I managed to duck these myself, Corina got hit right int eh face at least once.  Coming back out was…more difficult.  About halfway through we managed to lose all five of our guides, and the people in front of us were unable to see or steer.  Corina and I just watched them go back and forth across the canal, not really moving forward at all.  Since they were unable to keep their kayak straight together, they were just getting angrier and angrier at each other.  As Corina mentioned later, it was the worst possible idea ever for newlyweds, and even some of the older couples were having problems keeping tempers in check.  Also, the kayaks in front of us kept stopping to try and figure out which way to go.  I did understand that they couldn’t really see and were worried about getting lost without our guides, but there as only one channel.  As long as you’re still going forward and you haven’t run into a tree, it’s the way out.  Finally we got back, thoroughly soaked and pretty tired.  But I would highly recommend the tour to anyone – just make sure to wear a swim suit, even if you don’t expect to get into the water at all.  You will get wet.

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 4

San Juan (Corina, Stacey, Josue)

The next day we were up bright and early enough to catch a coqui!

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These tiny little frogs are named for the sound they make (can we say onomatopoeia?) every night like song birds.  Of course, some people hate the sounds they make, and it keeps them up, but I thought it was beautiful.  Plus, if you can sleep through the songbirds pre-dawn every morning, you should be able to handle a few measly frogs.

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Then, we were off to the Camuy Caves, a huge system about an hour away from San Juan.  From what we’d heard, these caves had the potential to be closed though – there had been an accident about a year ago in which falling rock had killed a woman, the first accident to ever happen during a tour at this cave site.  Consequently, they were closed to update safety procedures for some time.  Kelsey had told us the day before that she had gone to see them, and they were open for business, so we were excited to have the opportunity to see them.  Unfortunately we arrived just after an English tour filled up, so they told us we’d have to wait for about half an hour for the next one.

2-3 hours later, we still were not actually in the caves.  In fact, not a single tour group had departed since we arrived.  After severe questioning of the authorities, we found out one of the trams had broken, there were still at least 90 people in line ahead of us, and they had no idea when the next tour would even depart.  Thankfully we were able to get a refund, as we wouldn’t have time to come back to the caves, and typically they only give rain checks.

We had planned to spend the afternoon on the beach, so we quickly headed off in the direction of the coast, hoping to recoup some of our waiting time at the caves.  We were all starving by that point as well, so some food seemed in order.  I can safely say, the roadside stand we stopped at was excellent, and those pinchos were the best part of our day.  And Corina really liked them too…

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Of course, as soon as we stopped to get out of the car, tropical heavy rain.  The beach was out for the moment.  Instead, we half-stumbled into this lagoon area where swimming was forbidden, but many people were fishing.  So we set of to hike around a bit, and discovered…snails.  Not just one or two, but hundreds of the big old things.

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Antennae!

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There was plenty of other wildlife as well.

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San Juan

Finally at the end of the day, we relaxed on the waterfront of San Juan with fried foods and several Medallas (local beer) each.

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Eventually we worked our way over to listen to a reggae group we’d heard about, and took some time to look at the water at night, and enjoy the stars while we slowly relaxed into evening.  And despite a few showers and a possiblity of a rain-out for the band, everything resolved itself in the end.

All in all, though it was an unexpected sort of day, and if it was early-on filled with waiting and boredom, it was also full of hidden surprises.  And if you can’t recognize those when they spring out at you, what’s the point anyway?

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 3

Ponce (Corina and Stacey, Kelsey)

Same song, third verse – a little bit louder?  Corina and I joined up with Kelsey to attempt, once again, to visit Hacienda Buena Vista.  This time we ascended the slopes in two cars, confident that we’d just barely make the tour schedules for 10:30 am.  Alas, for us, evidently you need reservations to join a tour even at the published scheduled times.  Of course, the Hacienda does not proclaim this, even on the sign directly outside their front gate, nor did the tour book we referred to, but why should a vacation go according to plan?  We were, however, able to get inside to at least buy some of he famed coffee, for which I give my personal thanks to the gate guard.  The gift shop employee was also very helpful and informative about the programs and initiatives the Hacienda was involved with, and we did get to see a bit of the natural beauty of the complex.  Here’s a bit of info, in picture form (and Spanish).

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Following that, we were on our way to Tibas, one of the largest cultural sites for the Pre-Taino and other native Puerto Rican groups.  It was awesome.  We took a look at some of the excavation sites, various ball courts, a model village (several pictures below), and also walked through a nature preserve atop the site to protect against erosion and overzealous archeologists.

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Pictured in the hut below are Kelsey, blowing a kiss, and Corina, to the left and back.

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Our tour guide was delightfully knowledgeable both about past cultures and about native flora and fauna, and clearly explained a variety of native cures for all sorts of ailments.  My favorite involved boiling a plant in honey, siphoning off the liquid, and drinking it.  Yum!  Finally we met a very nice man who gave us the first passionfruit from his garden and invited us to a drum circle later that evening, which we were unable to attend.

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Evidently, the thick outer rind is not meant to be eaten.

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All in all, Tibas was delightful.

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Yay!  Us three!  Especially note my clam-white legs!

Cabo Rojo (Corina and Stacey, alone once more)

Following that outing, Corina and I again ran off on our own to explore the coast even further west, and to stop off at one of the more picturesque clifftop lighthouses on the island.  Sure you have to tromp through a bunch of weird red salt flats to get to the actual lighthouse, but who cares?  Lively water not far from a protected bay with a beach? Perfect for late afternoon relaxation.  Plus, the lighthouse itself had character.  Where else can you find 500 copies of the Odessey available for the casual read, in a variety of translations?

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Book on the table?  Of course it’s the Odessey!

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It may have been at this point that our stupid garmin first led us to a dead end, or it may have been the tropical downpours decreasing visibility or it may have been coming from the far side of the island – regardless, we got back to San Juan late.

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 2

Ponce, Puerto Rico (Stacey and Corina)

On are second day in the fair sunny land of PR, we headed down to the south and west to Ponce, which is one of the larger cities outside of San Juan.  I think it’s actually the third largest?  Regardless, it’s a big city with colonial-style architecture throughout and several big tourable mansions.  We were excited to go.  Unfortunately, jet lag/stress/lack of sleep caught up with Corina, so we ended up starting out late, after noon.  Then we got caught for the first time by the characteristic Puerto Rico traffic, which springs up for no reason on various short stretches of road across the island.  It’s not event traffic, or rush hour, or anything in any way predictable.  As I came to find out all too well, traffic on the island is its own beast, always ready to pounce on the unwary.  A 1 hour 20 minute drive on this trip took us just over two hours.

When we reached the city, our hostess, Norma, was still in class.  We decided to immediately attempt to find the Hacienda Buena Vista, one of the famous local coffee growing places up in the mountains behind the city.  They gave tours showcasing their shade grown plants and native species reforestation projects. So we followed signs deep into the windy roads of the countryside, trusting our lives to my reblooming driving skills on the narrow curves.  Of course, once we finally made it up there, the gate was shut.  The Hacienda was closed to all but school groups during the week – as this was Friday, they wouldn’t be open to us until 8:30 the following day.  So, back down the mountain.

By 3:30 pm, we were back in Ponce proper.  By this point I was in need of a bathroom, and in desperate need of food.  So we drove into the center of the city where several tourist sites were, parked, and proceeded to attempt to find someplace to eat.  This proved to be more difficult than it first would seem.  The first restaurant we entered, empty except for the proprietor and two servers, promptly explained they were not currently serving food, but told us there were several establishments just down the street to the left.  The next three places we entered were empty.  By ’empty’, I mean the doors were wide open, the tables and chairs were set out properly, the fans were circulating the hot afternoon air, and there wasn’t a single staff person to be seen.  Nor was there any indication that food was available or that kitchen staff might be returning soon.  It was downright creepy.  We continued to walk, searching in vain for a restaurant with both people and food in it.  At last, returning to the central square where we’d begun, we found a sandwich shop and cafe that we’d somehow missed on the first round.  At last, we had a delightful lunch on a balcony overlooking the main square.

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Corina, recovering from our empty restaurant ordeal.

We then took a look at the buildings on the square, a cathedral and the old fire station, the ‘Parque de Bombas’.  Inside, there was an old fire truck, several pumps, and a variety of fireman’s tools and gear.  I began to feel that we would actually get to do something that day.

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Corina got close to the spitting lion.

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Then we went onward and upward (literally) to the giant cross that sits up above the city.  I don’t know why it’s a cross, but I took full advantage of the viewing ‘arms’ to look out towards the ocean.

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We also visited the nearby Japanese garden, which was small, but surprisingly nice.

Finally, we met up with Norma and went out to dinner with some of her friends.  I had a great time.  We went to a bar after dinner, sat out on their patio under the stars, listened to music from all sides, and talked with some of Norma’s friends.  Despite all the entertainment though, I promptly fell asleep in my plastic patio chair.  It was a good day.

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 1

If any of you have a great fear of spiders, skip ahead to part 2.

For the past few weeks, it seems like I haven’t really had time to breathe.  What with visiting my parents in Indianapolis, my youngest sister in Barbourville, Kentucky, vacationing throughout Puerto Rico, quitting my job, and moving from the East Coast to the West, things have been unusually busy and I’ve been much more widely mobile than is typical even for me.  I’ve just barely begun to catch up.  So, let’s try and put it all in perspective, shall we?

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Corina, Stacey, Josue)

First we needed some food, so we decided to go local immediately.  We tried a place in Old San Juan near the parking garage that Josue hadn’t been to before, just for expediency’s sake, and it turned out really well.  I had mofongo, which is a traditional dish made with plantain which is mashed and then formed into a cup with a really large mortar-and-pestle arrangement.  The inside is filled with some kind of meat usually – mine was pork – and then cooked with the open side down, so that it looks like a small hill or mountain of goodness.  At this particular restaurant, the mofongos were particularly large.

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Then we stopped for coffee at a local fast food chain, the name of which I can’t remember.  Josue knew it, and the coffee was surprisingly good.  Then we toiled over to the old fort, hoping to get as much of the old city in as possible before jet lag kicked in.

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While I doubt that pictures like these are going to win me any sympathy points, I still thought I would try.   I mean, bars on the windows of the old fort – that’s like being in a prison, right?  Plus, the wind was in our hair the whole time, blocking vision, making us eat our own locks.  Josue had even more of a fro than usual.

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And all in the name of good pictures, we had to risk life and limb.  This brick wall, for instance, was covered in fire ants.  I swelled up into a giant rash and had to bathe in Caladryl.  Ok, not really, but it could have happened.

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Plus, even a picture like this that looks pretty amazing, was fraught with potential annoyance.  Palm branches are itchy, and the ocean wasn’t really blue enough.  Really.

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And then Corina accidentally trapped herself in this little guard station.  And by ‘trapped’ I mean ‘totally able to release herself once I’d taken enough pictures’.

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Here’s a close-up:

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There were some spectacular moments of watching the pelicans dive for fish as the sun set.  Most of the time they are even more ungainly than an albatross, but there’s that one moment of fishing when these odd birds are sheer elegant motion.  You can see the instinct coming on as they circle, seem to hesitate in midair, and then become this thin-stretched spear into the water.  I never got tired of watching that unfolding, so you’ll have to suffer through several attempts to catch it on film.

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We ended our first-day tour with two of the creepiest (and yet fascinating) areas that exist in Old San Juan.  The first we came upon all unawares while walking along the path below the main fort outside the old city walls.  This particular area is covered mostly with sea grape plants (Coccoloba uvifera), which are highly resistant to salt and can be eaten directly from the plant or made into jam. They are often used to shore up coastline or as an ornamental in this area, as they also supposedly have a hearty resistance to pests other than the seagrape borer, according to online sources.  However our particular plants were heavily infested with what I think were white flies, tiny little winged things that attached mostly to the underside of the plants, but also to the stems.  This large concentration of insects led in turn to a ridiculous concentration of large, scary spiders setting up shop in the sea grape thicket.

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Some of the spiders, like this one, even turned cannibal.  Strange, scary, and yet none of us could stop taking pictures.

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Creepy number two was pigeons.  Normally I don’t have a problem with pigeons, but then normally I don’t have a problem with rats, either.  And as a championship pigeon herder, I have some experience with larger numbers of the animal in enclosed quarters.  But this was like Funk Island of the Great Auk pre-extinction.  Bird doo everywhere, people feeding the birds handfuls of brown pellets so they can expel more, birds landing on shoulders, arms, even heads with no fear.  Not a place I wanted to spend a great deal of time, though the nearby chapel was picturesque.

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So, instead of this grimy bird image, I’ll leave you with the short form of the chapel legend.  Back in the day when Old San Juan was not so old, but the streets were just as steep and bumpy, a young gentleman lost control of his carriage.  It could have been that the horses were bit by something, possibly fire ants.  It could have been that he just gained too much speed and the horses couldn’t stop themselves.  Regardless of what caused it, this man had second before he was going over the edge at the end of a steep narrow street and there was nothing but certain doom in front of him.  So, like a good Catholic, he spent his last moments in prayer.  I can’t remember the particular saint he appealed to, but his wish for his life to be spared worked – he was able to cling to an outcropping near the edge and haul himself back to safety.  As a survivor, he built a church to the saint on that very spot, which stands to this day.  And to this day, if you’re in a runaway carriage down that narrow street, instead of plowing straight over the edge to your doom, you’ll shore up safe and mostly sound against the stern steel gates of this little chapel.

Video Complete!

Amidst packing, 4th of July celebrations, saying goodbye to the city where I’ve lived for the past four years and all the people I’ve come to know in it, training a new employee, moving from couch to couch each night, and trying to enjoy the one sunny weekend in all of the spring/summer thus far, I have been hard at work.  But, at long last, my law school scholarship video is complete.  Please check it out:

Hopefully I’ll be a finalist in the running and calling on all of you fine people to vote for me, come August (Access Group, pick me!  I’m even blogging about you!).  Yippee!

The Weird

In my family, strange is the norm.  There’s something different about our brains that make us think words like ‘cookie’ are funny or that Balki Bartokomous’ dance of joy is awesome (yes, a sister and I have it memorized).  There’s something about my own subconscious that makes my dreams vivid and odd – like the one from last night, where I was with a group of people running around my home church trying to get away from a very slow-moving zombie who always seemed able to catch up.  Or there’s Uncle Pickle, who’s evidently gone AWOL as of this month – mail returned with no forwarding address, phone disconnected, pretty much an almost-missing person.  Shannon, if you’re reading this, don’t freak out.

So I suppose it comes as no surprise that I find myself in unusual circumstances often.  For example, I currently have no place to live.  My address, according to the USPS, is in Indianapolis, but I’m still working in Boston.  For now, I take my housing where I can get it.  Last night I was at my friend Jeff’s apartment.  He was out of town , so I was there alone with his roommate Erin, who I’d never met before.  Somewhere nearby there’s a psychic dog.  I know, because whenever I was about to fall asleep, he would bark.  Not for a long period – just one or two sharp staccato ‘roofs’ just as I was reaching unconsciousness.  If I wasn’t so tired, I would’ve been fascinated.  The roommate was nice though she may have thought I was a freak.  I swear I wasn’t scary – I just sat there alone in the living room all night, completely silent.  Erin, I was working on my law school scholarship video all night.  Really!  And I got quite a bit done, too.  So far it’s awesome, but since I think parts of it are funny, it may be a little weird.

The word itself however – weird – was not originally meant to have negative connotations.  it signified the unusual, the different, the unique and wonderful.  Before even adjective meanings, it was a noun and a verb.  It meant fate and power, the influence of the gods and the ability to read their intentions.  It was a word that implied magic, the supernatural, a force that causes things to spring into being.  So this whole predisposition may be to my benefit after all.