Tag Archives: friends

I Bless The Rains Down In Africa

(Okay, it was the dry season, so we didn’t actually see any of the rains down in Africa, but I did want an excuse to share this video.)

 

We’d been talking about going to visit Tiana in Zimbabwe since she moved there two years ago due to her husband’s job with the Foreign Service. In the spring, Erin, Julie, Jackie and I decided we were definitely going to do it. So one night on Google Hangout, we went online and bought our tickets, and with that, we were going to Zimbabwe!

Sunday, August 7

We were flying through Dubai—Julie, Erin, and I from Boston and Jackie, who lives in DC, meeting us on our Dubai flight. Our flight left at noon. Twelve and a half hours—the longest flight I’d ever taken. I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, so my plan was to try to stay awake until normal sleeping hours, then sleep. I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I liked, and I know that’s a controversial opinion) and watched some of the Olympics. (I’m pretty obsessed with the Olympics, so back at home I was DVRing the primetime coverage.)

Monday, August 8

We landed in Dubai and had a tight layover—about an hour and a half. After wandering through the huge airport, we got to our gate and discovered they were already boarding. And it was kind of weird—the gate didn’t lead to the plane, but to an escalator, and they would only let a certain number of people down at a time. Jackie met up with us during this time and joined us in confusion. It turned out that the escalator led to the shuttle bus that took us to the plane.

So, anyway, we got on the next flight, which made an hour-and-a-half stop in Zambia before continuing to Zimbabwe, and I realized that I’d made a terrible mistake and should have tried harder to sleep on the previous plane, since it was morning by the time we took off. I actually like long flights, but I hit my limit on this trip. I ended up getting very little sleep.

We finally landed in Harare. Zimbabwe has been having a currency crisis in recent years and they now take the American dollar. You can’t really get money from ATMs if you’re a tourist, and most places don’t take credit cards. I got a taste of that right away when I got my visa—they didn’t have enough cash to make change for me and I had to wait while they found some.

Then we went over to the baggage carousel to get our bags. We waited. And waited. And…nothing. We were thinking, “They can’t possibly have lost ALL of our bags.” But…yep. They had. When we went over to the lost baggage claim area, they already had printouts from Emirates with our names on them. We would have to wait twenty-four hours until the next plane from Dubai landed.

So that was a bummer, but at least we were going to Tiana’s house and could borrow most of the things we needed from her. And by the time we got that sorted out, I was no longer tired. At her house, we said hi to her husband Nick and her adorable eleven-month-old baby, Evelyn, and went to bed.

Tuesday, August 9

The plan for the day: lunch at a restaurant Tiana likes, then a visit to a wildlife sanctuary called Wild Is Life, then pick up the bags.

We drove to the restaurant, and after we parked, Tiana suddenly said, “Hey, get over here on the grass so this car can park.”

I should mention that I have another college friend, Bridget, who also works for the government and has been living in Pakistan for the last few months. At the reunion (which, ha, I never wrote about), we FaceTimed with her, and I figured it would be a long time before I saw her again.

Well, you can probably see where this is going. The car behind us pulls in…and out of it steps FREAKING BRIDGET! She’d decided to come visit during her R&R and had been corresponding with Tiana about it secretly. It turned out she was bcc’d on all of our emails with Tiana about this trip—we had no idea!

We had a great lunch outside at this restaurant Arroma Caffé. There were chickens wandering around. I felt a little weird about it, since I was eating a chicken sandwich.

chicken-sandwich

chicken

Then we headed to Wild Is Life, a sanctuary in Harare for orphaned and injured animals. It was pretty freaking awesome. We got to feed some of the animals—including giraffes and a warthog named Pickles.

pickles

Giraffes are pretty awesome.

giraffes

We also saw a lot of elephants and impala and watched them feed the lions.

lion

ellie-in-dirt

 

We also met Marimba the pangolin. I’d never even heard of a pangolin before—it turns out they’re highly endangered, and there are so few of them that no one really knows how long they live.

pangolin

About halfway through the afternoon, we had tea, which was fun. At the end, we had rosé as giraffes looked on and tried to steal the drinks from us. You know, like you do.

giraffe-and-rose

 

us-at-wild-is-life

After all that, we went back to the airport, where, thankfully, all of our bags had finally arrived.

Wednesday, August 10

This vacation turned out to be a nice combination of sightseeing and relaxing. Wednesday was nothing but relaxing—hanging around Tiana’s house with her cute baby and cute dogs. Evie is a really great baby—so cute, so easygoing, so happy, so easy to make smile. Everyone would be having kids if every baby was guaranteed to be like her.

And Tiana’s two dogs, Kiro and Moki, are pretty awesome, too. I saw a lot of animals in Zimbabwe, but these two were my favorites.

kiro-and-moki

A friend of Nick’s from work came over for dinner. Afterwards, we packed for our trip to Victoria Falls.

Thursday, August 11

We headed back to the airport to go to Victoria Falls! We were flying on this tiny African airline, Fastjet. Julie had looked up the airline’s baggage rules earlier and found this gem:

bucket-of-fish

We actually had a great experience with the bucket-of-fish airline, though.

Here’s the hotel, where all the rooms were named after animals. Tiana and I were in “Buffalo.”

buffalo-room

We went out for lunch—where we ate, among other things, impala and crocodile—and did a bit of shopping.

For dinner, we went to the Boma, where we tried warthog and I even had a piece of a fried worm! They had a show toward the end of the night, where they gave us all drums for an audience response-type drum thing.

After we got back, Tiana and I were settling into bed in our hotel room when the hotel phone rang. We both looked at it in confusion. Tiana finally picked it up and discovered Erin and Bridget on the other end. There was a spider in their room, it turned out, and they weren’t sure if it was poisonous or not. I only heard Tiana’s side of the conversation, but it was hilarious. Erin was saying they’d actually been trying to call Jackie and Tiana was like, “How would Jackie know if it’s poisonous or not?” I was cracking up by the time the call ended and headed over with Tiana to see the spider. In their defense, it was pretty huge, and Tiana pretty much laughed in my face when I asked if you could just kill it with toilet paper. Tiana ended up whacking it to death with the hotel room bible. Or smiting it, if you will.

 

Friday, August 12

We headed off to see the falls. They were pretty awesome—there’s a reason they’re one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

vic-falls

It was the dry season in Zimbabwe, and usually you can’t go too far out on the rocks because they’re too slippery, but we were able to go out farther than usual. We also didn’t need the raincoats we’d rented.

dont-go-beyond-this-point

Then we got lunch at the Outlook Café, from which you could see people ziplining. Ziplining is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. There were three options— these two looked way too scary, but the third, the Flying Fox, didn’t look too bad. So I decided to do it and managed to convince Erin to do it, too.

 

ziplining

IT WAS AMAZING! So much fun—as close to flying as I’ve ever come. The operator even let both me and Erin do a second run for free.

Afterwards we went shopping and bought safari hats to wear on the safari the next day, then went out for dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

Saturday, August 13

Safari day! We had to get up early to get in the car that was coming for us. The safari was actually in Botswana, just over the border. (Victoria Falls is right where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia all converge.) So we had to go through the post at the border, then get in the safari vehicle. Ours was called the No. 1 Ladies Safari, after the book and TV series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is set in Botswana.

us-safari

On the land portion of the safari, we saw a lot of elephants, giraffes, some buffalo (including one old buffalo who crossed the road right in front of us), mongooses (spellcheck just informed me that “mongeese” isn’t a word), hippos, impala, crocodiles, and some cool-looking birds.

elephants

giraffes-in-wild

hippo

buffalo

We then went to the safari lodge for lunch and began the boat portion of the safari. It was pretty awesome—we saw animals like crocs and hippos up close, and this fantastic scene with elephants.

When we got back, we got dinner, then went back to the hotel and drank wine while watching the opening scene of The Lion King.

Sunday, August 14

Our flight wasn’t until late afternoon, so we spent the earlier part of the day shopping, then headed back to Harare. Tiana was happy to be reunited with her cute little girl, and we had dinner and played with Evie again.

zim-road

Monday, August 15

We packed, got lunch at a place near Tiana’s, and headed to the airport for our flight to Dubai. I got almost no sleep on the plane, which was not the plan, and I started going stir-crazy. I also engaged in some airplane parkour at one point—the guy in between me and Erin was sleeping, so when I had to use the restroom, I had Erin get up, got up on my seat, and literally jumped over the guy into Erin’s seat without waking him up.

Tuesday, August 16

Dubai day! This whole day felt like a weird dream, actually. For one thing, we were all really tired from not getting any sleep on the plane, and for another thing, Dubai is a study in contrasts. You’re very clearly in the Middle East, but you’re also surrounded by American and British stores.

The most surprising thing about Dubai? It was humid. I knew it would be really hot there, but I was thinking, oh, it’s the desert, it will be dry heat. No. It wasn’t. It was so humid you really couldn’t go anywhere outside. Which wasn’t a huge problem because everything we wanted to do was indoors, anyway. (Including skiing- one of the things I’d wanted to do indoors was skiing in a mall, but in the end I didn’t have time.)

We checked into our hotel rooms, then got in a cab to tour the Jumeirah Mosque. The cab driver, who took us right from the hotel, was a bit sketchy- he kept trying to get us to change our plans and go somewhere else, and we kept telling him to just take us to the damn mosque already. But luckily, that was as sketchy as the trip got. The mosque was beautiful, and we listened to a woman talk about Islam and answer questions.

jumeirah-mosque

Then we went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It was pretty cool, but you actually couldn’t see that far from the observation deck due to dust. That is a weather forecast in Dubai—dust.

burj-khalifa

I think I mentioned that in London, we went to tea at Fortnum and Mason. After discovering that there was a Fortnum and Mason in Dubai, we decided to do it again! It was just as delicious as it was in London.

fortnum-and-mason

After that, it hit us that we were jet lagged and had gotten very little sleep, so we went back to the hotel to lay down for a bit.

Then we went out to dinner. Bridget wanted to have a great last meal before she headed back to the not-so-great food in Pakistan, so we went to a nice French restaurant.

And then it was time to head back to the airport. Bridget headed back to Pakistan, Jackie to DC, and Erin, Julie, and I to Boston.

Wednesday, August 17

Okay, I wish the story ended there, but I have to describe the absolutely INSANE flight back to Boston.

It was going okay until we were somewhere over Greenland. Then all of a sudden, on the map that shows where the plane is, I saw that we were going BACKWARDS and our destination was now Iceland. We were, it turned out, experiencing a medical emergency and had to land the plane. Someone told us later that the emergency was a little kid with pneumonia. Because we landed at a small airport, they had to jettison fuel and then re-fuel at the airport. So that took even longer, and then as we were taxing through the airport, we paused for a long time. Apparently, there was a SECOND medical emergency. (I have no idea what that one was.) So we had to wait some more.

Also, not long before we went on this trip, Emirates had this incident where a plane burst into flames. I think the flight crew was paranoid from that, because a couple of hours before we landed, Erin opened her eyes to find two flight attendants standing over her sniffing. One of them apparently thought she smelled something burning, and they made our whole row get up as we all looked at each other like, “What the hell? I don’t smell anything!” I honestly think the flight attendant must have been imagining things, because no one else smelled it and we returned to our seat pretty quickly.

So, we landed, finally, about five hours after we were supposed to. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to spend the whole day sleeping at home, as planned, but things didn’t end there. Logan Airport took over two hours to return everyone’s bags. I have no idea why- they said something about being short on grounds crew but for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took as long as it did. We were standing by the baggage carousel as a small amount of bags would emerge every fifteen minutes or so.

So, yeah. Not the best flying experience I’ve ever had, but at least it made me happy to be home. Because this trip was such a great time, I didn’t want to go back to my normal life.

Heaven and Hell…Aka Grand Cayman

Okay, I’m finally going to write about the Grand Cayman trip. Here we go.

 

I found on New Year’s Eve that I’d been chosen to attend my company’s CEO Summit. Essentially, I had two good sales years where I made my goal, which, by some measurement of performance over time, placed me in the top 10% of sales professionals company-wide. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but if the result is a free trip to Grand Cayman, I don’t really care.

 

Everyone could bring a guest, so, since I don’t get to see her nearly enough, I asked Christina. She was going to be in Boston the preceding weekend anyway for her sister’s graduation, so she stayed in Boston a night longer. This was during the two weeks post-fire when I wasn’t in the sublet yet, so we got a hotel room near the airport. I figured out how to stream the Mad Men finale online (even though we had to be up super early for our 6 AM flight the next day, there was no way I was missing it), and the next morning we were off.

 

I knew the trip was going to go well when we got to the hotel and, within about five minutes, someone handed us a free rum punch.

GC5

There were, I think, a total of eighty-eight people from sales there, plus a bunch of higher-ups and everybody’s guests. There were a handful of people I’d met in passing before, but no one I knew well. They were from all over the place—all over the country but also foreign countries. I met people from Australia, England, and Tunisia, among other places. I met a lot of people from LA. Other than some managers who work in the Boston office, I was the only person from Boston there. I was also one of the youngest people, which was weird—in the office in Boston, I work with people who were born in the 90s and don’t have the same pop culture touchpoints as me. And I’m almost positive I was the only person there who was both single and childless. The vast majority of people brought their significant others and most of those who didn’t either brought one of their kids or at least had a significant other back at home. I’m pretty sure everyone thought Christina was my girlfriend until we explained that we were friends who lived on opposite coasts.

GC1

 

GC6

 

But most of the colleagues and guests that I met were really nice and interesting. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday there were mandatory dinners that we attended with everyone at the summit, one of which culminated on releasing these lanterns over the ocean. We also had went on a couple of sponsored activities with colleagues. One was a sunset boat cruise on our last night there. The other was a trip that included snorkeling and a visit to Stingray City, where you can swim with stingrays!

GC2

Christina and I also rented a cabana and spent a whole day there, lounging on the beach and having food and drinks brought to us.

GC3

On another day, we went to Hell. Literally.

GC4

Yep, Hell is a rock formation in Grand Cayman. There’s even a post office so you can send post cards from hell. Christina sent one to her dad’s church.

GC7

Also, free booze. SO MUCH free booze.

 

It was an awesome trip that came at the perfect time—and it was all free since it was a work trip!

Stop Throwing Cold Water on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

You’ve heard about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by now, if you or your friends haven’t done it. Unfortunately, by now you’ve already probably heard some of the backlash against it. I know I’ve been reading a lot of negative articles about it, seeing people rain on the parade on Facebook, and hearing friends and coworkers be cynical about it. Let’s see if I can sum up the Debbie Downers of the world’s thoughts on it:

  • It’s a stupid gimmick and people should just donate to ALS research and skip the ice.
  • Why are you only supposed to donate if you don’t do the ice bucket? Donating shouldn’t be the consolation prize.
  • People are doing it for the wrong reasons—for attention or because it’s trendy, not because they care about ALS.
  • People were doing it anyway before it became about ALS.
  • It’s taking attention away from other worthy causes.

 

Did I miss anything?

 

I’m sick of hearing all this, and I’m more than happy to be part of the backlash-to-the-backlash, as New York magazine would put it.

 

The Ice Bucket Challenge first started popping up on my newsfeed a couple of weeks ago, but it wasn’t my first time hearing about  Pete Frates. I don’t know Pete, but he was at Boston College when I was, and I’ve been hearing about him and his battle with ALS through the BC alumni community for a while now. At first, it was just people from college doing the challenge, and I was thinking it was mainly a BC thing. But I was surprised by how quickly it spread. I saw friends I knew from places other than college start to do it, and, well, the rest is history—everyone from Justin Timberlake to Bill Gates to Ethel Kennedy has done it by now.

 

Can you donate to ALS research without throwing ice water on your head? Of course you can. You can also donate to charity without running a marathon (or any other road race or bike race or swim race or triathlon or walkathon) or attending a gala. And dousing yourself in ice water, unlike those things, is free. But athletic events, galas, and ice bucket challenges get people to pay attention in ways that simple discussion of a cause doesn’t—a basic marketing principle. Those of you arguing that it’s taking money away from other causes, why don’t you just find a better way to draw attention to your cause? This certainly shows that it’s possible for charity to go viral.

 

I do understand skepticism about social media gimmicks to raise awareness. The Facebook trend where women were posting the colors of their bras without context, ostensibly to raise awareness about breast cancer (a disease I can’t imagine anyone being unaware of), was beyond pointless. But ALS is a disease that could certainly benefit from greater awareness, and this challenge is about raising money as well as awareness.  

 

And if you want to talk about money, here are some numbers for you:

$5.5 Million: How much money has been raised for ALS since the Ice Bucket Challenge started.

$32,000: How much was raised during the same period of time last year.

 

That should be the end of the argument right there. ALS is a horrible, progressive, incurable disease that causes its sufferers to lose control of their bodies. Maybe one day there will be a cure, but cures are found through research, and research needs money. Now there’s $5.5 million more going towards that research.

 

So who cares how or why that money was donated? It’s not even the ends justifying the means—more like the ends justifying the motive, even if that motive was less than altruistic. Yes, there are people who are only doing it for attention or because it’s trendy and haven’t given ALS a second thought. Even so—$5.5 million. It’s hard to argue with that. And by my own unscientific analysis, I believe that most people who do the challenge are donating anyway, even if technically the rules say that you only have to donate if you don’t do it.

 

There are so many terrible, sad things going on in the world right now. The fighting in Gaza, the Iraq crisis, the Ebola outbreak, the killing of Mike Brown and its aftermath in Missouri, the suicide of Robin Williams. It’s beyond me why anyone would want to turn people raising millions of dollars for an extremely worthy cause, something I’d consider unambiguously positive, into something to complain about.

 

I myself got tagged by my friend Erin on Monday. I had to wait until yesterday to film it (turns out there are unforeseen challenges to living alone, like not having anyone to hold the camera when you want to make a video!), but I would have donated even if I’d done it within twenty-four hours.

 

And so should you. Enjoy this video of me throwing ice water on myself, then visit www.petefrates.com and donate. I tagged my friends Christina, Jon, and Steph in the video, but if you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged!

 

Some Good Things

It’s been a bit since my last post, and I’ll write about something more interesting pretty soon. Sometimes it’s hard to find things to write about when life is good. Which it is right now, I’m happy to report. Not because of one huge reason (I’m still single, sadly), but lots of things are going right lately. And it can be obnoxious to talk about how great your life is (see this article!), but on a blog about my life, I do want to share what’s going on with me.

So here are some reasons I’ve been happy lately:

-One of my goals for the year was to write more fiction, and I have. A long time ago, I used to try submitting short stories to magazines, but after awhile I just…stopped. Until this year, when I started submitting a couple of stories around. Recently, I found out that one of them was accepted! My short story “Things You Don’t Know I Know about You” is forthcoming in The Sierra Nevada Review, and it will be out in May. Yea!

-I made my sales goal at work, which means I’m getting a bonus in a couple of months.

-I completed a 10K yesterday and got a good time for me! I finished in 53:29, which is a 8:37 pace, faster than I usually run.

-I’ve been better lately about exercising and not eating crap.

-My roommate and I got a better Internet connection. I then joined Netflix, and then I bought a Roku. The Roku has massively improved my life. I’m now catching up with TV shows I should have been watching. Parks and Recreation is now one of my new favorites—I’ll do a post in the near future about everything I’ve been catching up with. Breaking Bad is probably next.

-But I’m not starting Breaking Bad until baseball is over because RED SOX IN THE ALCS WOO!

-It’s fall and the weather is lovely and I recently went apple picking because YEA NEW ENGLAND.

-I’ve picked up a little side project editing college essays for high school kids, and I’m enjoying it.

-The Boston Book Festival is coming up this weekend- I’ve meant to go every other year, but have always been busy. This is the first year I’m making it.

-BC’s football team still isn’t great, but they’re at least better than they were last year.

-I saw a great play called The Power of Duff last weekend. After I see a good play, it makes me want to see [Allie Brosh] ALL the theater! [/Allie Brosh] So maybe there’s more theater for me in the near future.

-Speaking of Allie Brosh, her book is coming out at the end of the month!

-My friends are awesome, although that’s not new.

-My furry friend is also awesome.

In Praise of Teachers

I always seem to be surrounded by teachers. My mom is a teacher. Some of my best friends are teachers. Many of my other relatives—aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmother—are or were teachers.

I am not a teacher, although there was a time as a kid when I thought I might like to be. You know why I’m not? Because I know I couldn’t handle it. And after talking with the teachers I know as school starts up again this year, I’m even more convinced that I wouldn’t survive a week as a teacher.

So you can imagine how much I hate it when I hear people insult teachers or talk as if their jobs are easy. You want to know what teachers have to deal with on a daily basis? Here’s just a small sample of it:

-I have fond memories of reading books as a class—we read Stone Fox in third grade, The Witch of Blackbird Pond in fifth grade, etc. In a lot of school districts, this is no longer part of the curriculum. Why, you ask? Effing MCAS. That’s Massachusetts’ state testing, but every state has state-wide testing, and since performance on it reflects on the district, everything revolves around it. Creative writing, which was my favorite part of elementary school? Forget it. My friend’s curriculum director actually said to her once, “Why would you teach the students to connect with what they’re reading? That’s not going to be on MCAS.” The same friend’s superintendent greeted all the teachers on their first day of school by yelling at them that they still weren’t at the highest MCAS level. Oh, and in that same school system, they eliminated an entire year of social studies due to, you guessed it, MCAS.

-Teachers all need to get their master’s degree. If they get it before they start teaching, districts have to pay them more, which makes them less hirable. However, if they get it while they’re working, they have to work full time while also taking classes. And once teachers have their teaching licenses and master’s degrees, they’re not anywhere near done taking classes. They have to take all kinds of classes to keep their licenses up-to-date, some of questionable value. One certain relative of mine spent months whining about a class she was taking on brain-based education (quoth another certain relative: “As opposed to what? Ass-based?”). And these aren’t quick, two-hour seminars—they’re multi-week, 30+ hour classes that teachers take while working full-time.

-Another thing teachers have to deal with now that wasn’t as much of an issue when I was a kid is an increasing number of students with special needs. Full inclusion wasn’t as big of a movement when I was a kid, but there’s a big push for it now. I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of inclusion, but I will say that teachers now have to deal with more students with autism, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, ADHD, mental health issues, the works. Even with help from special education teachers, it can create a lot of challenges. My friend had to evacuate her classroom multiple times when a kid with severe behavioral problems started throwing chairs. If a student is on an individualized education plan, the teacher has to meet with parents and special education teachers many times to discuss the student’s progress—and has to do this for every single student on an ed plan.

-And then there are the parents. The helicopter parents who won’t leave the teacher alone, wanting to know every single thing going on in class and why their kid only got a B+. The parents who yell at the teacher after their kid blatantly lies to them. The parents who can’t believe their little angel is an asshole in school. One of my friends had a parent yell at her because she wouldn’t let her son have his cell phone with him during MCAS (which is a state rule). At the other end of the spectrum, there are also, sadly, some parents who are abusive or neglectful, whom teachers are legally obligated to report to the authorities.

-If you’re one of those people who bitches about how “teachers only work until three” or “teachers get the whole summer off,” do me a favor and punch yourself in the face. Want to know how wrong you are? Let’s start with hours. A new teacher is often encouraged to be an advisor or a coach, which means lots of after-school time. Teachers do most, if not all, of their lesson planning and grading after school, and it usually adds up to way more than a typical 9-5 job. And many teachers don’t get the summer off—because they make so little money to begin with, they take summer jobs. Some even have second jobs during the school year. And not only do teachers not make much money, because districts are cash-strapped, they have often have to buy supplies for their classrooms with their own money.

-And speaking of cash-strapped districts, job security as a teacher? For the first three years, it’s non-existent. The odds are good that a teacher will be laid off after that first year—maybe being re-hired after receiving the pink slip, but maybe not. One friend was laid off and re-hired her first year teaching, then laid off for real after two full years of putting a boatload of time and energy into a difficult inner-city teaching job. Another was laid off, rehired, and almost laid off again after her first year teaching—although by that time, understandably, she’d opted to find another job in a different district. After three years, a teacher is granted tenure and becomes immune to layoffs, but if that teacher ever wants or needs to leave the school district, he or she will have to start over with zero job security somewhere new. That is, if anyone will hire him/her—teachers with more experience are less hirable due to the district having to pay them more.

-There are lots of other things teachers have to deal with as well. Like being paid as a part-time rather than full-time teacher because you’re teaching five high school classes instead of six. (Happened to a friend of mine.) Or having to take over another teacher’s classes because he was fired for sending inappropriate text messages (ditto). Or spending months or years trying to negotiate a new teachers’ contract just to raise your salaries to the average for the area in which you live (happened to a relative). Or dealing with education policy laws that are created by people who’ve never taught before. Or barely having ten minutes to scarf down lunch every day. And zillions of other things that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

Are there bad teachers out there? Absolutely. There are people in every profession who aren’t good at what they do—bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad waiters, bad salespeople. And while in Massachusetts teachers can be fired with cause after they have tenure, that’s not the case in a lot of other places, which I think is a mistake.

The dialogue about what’s wrong with schools today often focuses, I think wrongly, on bad teachers. There’s talk of paying teachers more for getting better results—and results, of course, are measured by standardized tests, with no regard for the specific populations a teacher serves or how well the teachers at a school work together as a team or progress made in a classroom that can’t be tangibly quantified.

Here are some better questions: what makes good teachers leave? How can we attract intelligent, competent, caring people to teaching jobs? What do teachers themselvesfeel could help them do their job more effectively? What do we want the goal of teaching to be—high test scores, or students who love the knowledge and understanding they’ve gained and will go on to do great things in the world?

We all, hopefully, had great teachers through the years whom we remember and admire. I’d love to think that if I ever have kids, they’ll have teachers like that, too, and that those teachers will love their jobs and going to school every day. Most of the teachers I know say that they love the teaching part of teaching and love their students—it’s the rest of the crap they have to deal with that they hate, and sometimes good teachers leave the profession because that crap gets so overwhelming.

So as one small step toward improving education in this country—can we at least give some appreciation to the people who devote their lives to educating kids? There are all kinds of things that teachers deserve that they aren’t getting, but since it may be awhile before there’s fair pay, job security, money for school supplies, support when things get tough, or measuring progress without teaching to a test, for now, we can show teachers the respect they so richly deserve.

My England and Ireland Trip

I turned twenty-nine on July 20, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Turning a year older when you’re single is never fun, but this year I didn’t care.  I was still on a high from the best vacation of my life—my first, and DEFINITELY not last, trip to Europe.

Rather than take you through the specifics of each day, I’ll share with you the highlights:

-Our hotel in London was right near King’s Cross Station. There was a long line to take pictures at Platform 9 ¾, so I didn’t do it, but I got a picture of some random girl there:

-We went to Harrod’s, a department store so fancy you can only dream of buying anything there. Like, there’s-an-opera-singer-in-the-stairwell kind of fancy.

-I kind of surprised myself with my reaction to Westminster Abbey. Erin, the history major among us, was getting excited over all the kings and queens buried there, and I was like, Oh, monarchs, that’s cool. But then we got toward the end of the tour, and I realized that Geoffrey Chaucer and Georg Frederick Handel are buried there as well. And THAT excited the English major and choral singer in me—I love The Canterbury Tales to the point where I voluntarily took a class on Chaucer in college and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus—I think I’ve memorized the soprano part.

-We wanted to see the changing of the guard but couldn’t get there in time. Next time, I guess—and there WILL be a next time! But we did swing by Buckingham Palace. We kept wondering through the whole trip if the royal baby would show up while we were there, but little Prince George was waiting for us to leave, I guess.

-The Tower of London was kind of morbidly fascinating. Here’s a picture of where Anne Boleyn was beheaded:

-Julie had suggested having tea at Fortnum and Mason, so we did. I think this was my favorite part of London. The food was so good- scones, little cakes, little sandwiches (ones I didn’t think I would like but really did), and, of course, tea. The waitress asked us if we wanted a slice of cake afterwards, and we were too full!

-File under “you make it too easy, England.” Also under “I’m twelve”

-I was glad we got to take a double-decker bus on this trip! We took it to the train station and then took a train out to Windsor Castle. No pictures from inside because they weren’t allowed, but it was really cool to see. And the queen was there when we were!

-If you waved a wand and turned Boston into a European city, I think it might look something like Dublin.

-At the pub where we had lunch the first day in Dublin, they had a Boston Strong sticker hanging up, which was nice.

-My last name is super easy to spell, but you would not believe how many people think it’s spelled “Haze.” Which is a word, not a name. As it turns out, people even do that in Ireland—you know, the country my ancestors came from.

-My favorite part of the whole vacation was the day tour we took to the Cliffs of Moher. There was a walking tour in Galway first, which was interesting. I think I’d spend more time in Galway if—WHEN—I go back to Ireland. Among the interesting things I learned on this tour was that Jane Eyre may have been named after a real person commemorated in a Galway church—although that Jane Eyre, ironically, is described as an “obedient wife.”

-London and Dublin are great, but it’s easy to imagine that big cities are ANY big city. When we went out to the countryside to see the Cliffs of Moher, that was when I really felt like I was in a place different from anywhere I’d ever been. It was so beautiful—I was just standing at the cliffs thinking, “This view? THIS is why I wanted to go to Ireland.”

-Our third day in Ireland, we went to Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle and did a bit of a literary walking tour. We also found a pub whose name was Erin’s last name, so of course we had to drop everything and get a drink there!

-Also on that last day, we were at a café called Queen of Tarts and the actor Andrew McCarthy, whom I know as Blane from Pretty in Pink (he’s also been in St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and the TV show Lipstick Jungle), was sitting across from us. I remembered how once at a meeting at work, we did an icebreaker where we went around the room and talked about if we’d ever met someone famous. I thought that if we ever did that again, I could say, “This one time when I was in Dublin, the guy from Pretty in Pink was sitting across from me at a cafe.”

And then it occurred to me that now I can start stories with, This one time when I was in Dublin…”

-Did I mention that we did not see a drop of rain in either country the whole time we were there? It was amazing! London was having what it called a heat wave- uh, I’ll take low-to-mid-eighties with no humidity over the actual heat waves we’ve gotten this summer in Boston any day, thanks. And in Ireland, on the day we went to the cliffs, even the tour guide was like, “It’s never this nice out here.” Sometimes, apparently, there’s so much fog you can’t see very well at the Cliffs of Moher, but we had an absolutely gorgeous day.

-Now that I’m back, one kind of weird reaction I’m having is that I want to watch every British movie ever. I’ve already seen Mary Poppins and Notting Hill since returning.

I want to go back so much! I’m already thinking of all the other things I want to do in both England and Ireland. But I also want to see ALL the places, as Allie Brosh would say. If only I had unlimited time and money!

In any case, I have now been to Europe, and it was as much fun as I always dreamed. I was lucky to have two awesome friends to share it with. If I had to have a birthday at the end of the week, I took comfort in thinking that age twenty-nine might be even a fraction as fun as the last week of being twenty-eight was.

Happiness Is…

Something I do that I know I shouldn’t do: I judge the severity of your problems by whether or not you’re in a happy relationship.

There are some problems that are universally terrible- death, destruction, and serious illness or injury, and of course I sympathize with people suffering from these problems regardless of their relationship status.

But then there are normal generational angst problems. You lost your job, or you hate your job, or you didn’t get into the school you wanted to, or you don’t know what you’re doing with your life. You don’t like where you live, you’re living at home and hating it, or you’re having trouble finding an apartment or buying a house. You had a falling out with a friend, or you miss your friends, or someone else’s wedding is stressing you out, or you’re fighting with a relative.

If you have any of those problems and you’re also single (or even in a bad relationship), I sympathize with you. But if you’re happily in a relationship or engaged or married? I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I just can’t take your problems seriously. At the end of the day, you have someone to come home to whom you can talk to about it, who will comfort you and make you feel better. My problems might be the same as yours, but I don’t have anyone to come home to. If I ever lost my job, I wouldn’t have a significant other’s income to fall back on. I don’t have anyone with whom to buy a house or split the cost of a one-bedroom apartment. I don’t have someone who’s committed to being with me.

So there’s my ugly confession, and reading over it, it makes me sound really bitter. I’m not, I promise you. Like anyone, I have moments where I’m down, but the majority of the time, I choose to be happy. And happiness is, indeed, a choice and not a destination like some people make it out to be. You can’t spend too much time thinking about the future or, to paraphrase John Lennon, you miss the life that’s happening while you’re busy making other plans.

But recently, I took a step back and thought about my life and everything in it. I realized that the one unequivocally great thing in my life right now is my friends, who are amazing and fun and keep me sane.

With the rest of my life, though? There’s not really anything else in my life with which I’m completely satisfied. Nothing is really that bad (I guess things could always be worse as long as I’m not starving to death in an impoverished country), but nothing is at the place I hoped it would be by now. I still don’t have any of the three things I want the most. I’m writing more, but still not nearly as much as I want to. I’ve gained an insane amount of weight in the last year. I have trouble getting enough sleep. And my career goals are still in progress.

Life is short, and it’s time to start working harder to change things. When this year comes to a close, maybe things will be better. For now, I’m choosing to be happy, but I’m also choosing to move forward.

How to Live Through a Week of Tragedy

You can’t remember so many bad things ever happening in such a short amount of time. Information keeps coming in about the bombing at the marathon and the people who were killed and wounded. All of your friends who were at the marathon (it is not an exaggeration to say that EVERYONE in Boston knows someone who was there) are uninjured, but the stories of people who were hurt are hard to hear. You remember how when events with mass casualties happened in the past, you tried to think of who you knew who could have been hurt—on September 11th, your cousin who often flew from Boston to LA, and when the shooting in Arizona happened, your friend who lived in Tucson. You had to wait to hear if those people were okay.

Now it’s your turn. You’re the one people are trying to get in touch with to make sure you’re okay. You’re the one getting texts from your parents, sister, aunts, cousins, friend who’s on vacation, friend in Seattle, friend in DC. It’s not some distant event that you’re mildly disturbed by and think about occasionally—it’s here. It’s your city, your people.

And despite the acts of kindness that are reassuring you of the goodness of people out there, this week of tragedy keeps getting worse. Poisoned letters are sent to President Obama and a Mississippi senator. A plant explodes in Texas, killing and injuring dozens of people. The bill for background checks on guns fails in the Senate, which makes you so angry you’re afraid to talk about it for fear of saying something you’ll regret. Something else in your own world that you don’t want to talk about publicly—something not on par with everything else but still pretty awful— also happens this week.

You don’t think things could get worse…and then they do.

*             *             *

Before you go to bed Thursday night, you hear that an MIT police officer has been shot, then that he was killed. You’ve seen the photos the FBI released of the two suspects and note that there’s nothing distinctive about either of them—they could be anyone. You wonder, before you go to bed, if this shooting is related to the bombings or if it’s yet another unrelated tragedy in a terrible week.

Friday morning, when you finally drag yourself out of bed after hitting snooze several times and start to get dressed, it occurs to you to check the news and see what the latest is on the bombing suspects, so you pick up your new iPhone.

You don’t make it to the news. Your phone has blown up with text messages and voicemails almost as numerous as they were on Monday after the bombing. Dazed, you check the computer and try to make sense out of the hell that’s broken loose while you were asleep. Your office is closed. The T has shut down. Cambridge is one of several cities and towns on lockdown. You’re not supposed to leave the house.

You stumble downstairs and turn on the TV, bringing your laptop with you and trying to get yourself up to speed. They think the suspect is in Watertown, not very close to you, but who really knows? You see pictures the news crew has from around the city. Boston, on a workday when people are normally rushing around and doing their day-to-day thing, looks post-apocalyptic. This, oddly, is just as scary as anything else.

Your fright turns to impatience when you realize that it might be awhile before they catch the guy. The news starts repeating the same things they’ve already said. You go to the back porch to read the paper. You answer work emails from your customers, who all live out of state and have probably forgotten where you live. You talk to your parents, who are flying home from their vacation in Florida. You have a long chain of text messages going with three friends, and your discussion of the news coverage is interspersed with talk of guys, one friend’s cat, and the Geek Squad at Best Buy. You get annoyed when you realize that you barely have any food in the house and can’t even order takeout because businesses are all closed. You get more annoyed when you realize what a nice day it is and how great it would be for running but you’re now stuck inside because of some murderous assholes. Then you feel guilty for being so annoyed at little inconveniences when everyone you know survived the bombing unscathed and so many other people can’t say that.

Around 6:30 they hold a news conference where they tell people the lockdown is over but the suspect has not yet been apprehended. You’re still nervous but dying to get out of the house, and since the T’s running again, you and your friends start making plans for drinks and dessert. As you’re getting ready to go out, you see something happening on the TV. It’s clear now that they’ve found the guy, and you and your friends immediately postpone your plans. You keep texting each other new things that you hear. You keep on watching until finally it’s over and the suspect is captured.

On Saturday, you get up, get dressed, and head out for the plans you didn’t get to last night. You drink multiple glasses of wine at lunch and buy cupcakes from a bakery. You and your friends head into the city and see the makeshift memorial set up on Boylston Street. Several blocks are still shut down. There are some adorable therapy dogs over by the memorial that you and your friends pet. The dogs look tired—like everyone else, they’ve had a long week.

Saturday night you sleep for twelve hours straight.

 

*             *             *

So much goes through your mind this week. While you don’t know any victims personally, little connections keep startling you. Jeff Bauman is from your hometown and was two years behind you at your high school. Patrick Downes graduated from BC a year ahead of you, and many of your friends know him. Sean Collier lived near you, on a street your roommate walks the dog down every day. They’re jolting details, but you have to keep reminding yourself that it wouldn’t be any less tragic if it had happened to people who come from some place you’ve never heard of. You know it will be hard to remember this the next time something tragic happens somewhere that’s not here.

You try to piece together the bits of information you keep hearing about these two brothers, everything their friends and relatives say, trying to make sense of what could have led them to do this before ultimately concluding that you never will, because dropping bombs on a crowd of people at a marathon will never make any sense.

Humor is one of the only things keeping you sane. You’ve always liked The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but you usually only tune in after some kind of major current event, like to see what Jon Stewart has to say about the presidential election. But this week, watching Comedy Central is getting you through the day. And aside from every other awesome thing they do this week, their Boston tributes are especially gratifying. This clip from Colbert manages to be hilarious while also getting Boston exactly right.

[hulu id=pi5tsuwrierrkrzc3_8vyq width=512]

You feel profound gratitude for everyone who helped put an end to the manhunt that dominated Friday. You’re horrified when you think about the guy who found the suspect hiding in his boat and how scary that must have been.

You wonder how long it will be before Hollywood makes a movie out of all this.

You stop talking in the second person.

                                                    *             *             *

There are so many ways a person can use the word “love,” so I need to get across what I mean when I say I love Boston. A lot of people say they love their hometown but still roll their eyes at it, as if their love is like the love they’d have for a parent who means well but doesn’t understand them at all, like Emily on Gilmore Girls. But Boston, for me, is not Emily Gilmore—it’s Lorelai Gilmore, the mom you can’t believe you were lucky enough to be born to. Boston may have been the city I fell into because it’s so close to where I grew up, but that’s not why I stay here. I stay here because there’s no city in the world I could ever love more.

I love that it’s full of colleges and therefore full of people who are here for education, people who are intelligent, people with ambition, people who want to go on to do great things. I love that it’s so easy to get around on foot. I love the passion people have for sports teams—one of my fondest memories of college was watching the whole city erupt in happiness after the Sox won the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years. I love that people who are liberal and open-minded are the rule rather than the exception here. I love that so many big moments in American history occurred here. I love that so many funny people grew up here—Amy Poehler, Steve Carell, Conan O’Brien, Mindy Kaling, just to name a few. I love that Boston inspired movies like Good Will Hunting and The Departed. I love that we have good seafood. I love walking down Newbury Street, getting a cannoli in the North End, taking a ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands, spending an afternoon at the Museum of Science or the Aquarium or the MFA. I love that we have independent bookstores and artsy little movie theaters. I love that it’s not far from the ocean or the mountains. I love that you don’t need a car to live here. I love that we have four distinct seasons, unlike so many other parts of the country. I love that it’s such a foodie city that I feel like my list of restaurants to try will never end. I love the view as I’m going over the river on the Red Line. I love the Boston Globe. I love that the local furniture companies keep trying to outdo each other with their TV commercials. I love that our medical care is among the best in the world—I know multiple people who might not have survived some scary health issues if not for the excellent medical care they received here. I love that the people here respect each other’s space but won’t hesitate to help someone in need—a quality on display in all its glory this week.

“This is our fucking city,” Big Papi so eloquently put it at the Sox game on Saturday. And it’s MY fucking city, too. I have no desire to live anywhere but the Boston area for the rest of my life, and it’s too bad it took a week of tragedy to remind me why.

Boston by Katie

Over MLK weekend, I traveled out to San Francisco for my friend Jenna’s wedding to a great guy she’s been with for ten years. I met Jenna back in first grade, and I freaked out a bit when I realized that was TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO. My friendship with Jenna is as old as a college graduate! Anyway, the wedding was lovely, and it was great to see Jenna and her family. I didn’t know many people there besides Jenna and her parents and sister, but everyone I met was awesome!

I only had a couple of days in San Francisco, a city I’d only been to once before (on my first business trip, when I was twenty-three, had spent the entirety of the previous year in Massachusetts, and so completely broke that I was over the moon at the idea of my company paying me to travel). Jenna and her new husband Mike had put up a Google Map with all their favorite places in SF on their wedding website, so I used that as my guide when figuring out what to do!

Also, I found the flower shop from The Room (or what it used to be- now it’s a coffee shop) and took a picture. I HAVE NO SHAME.




Anyway, that combined with conversations with some people at the wedding about their own visits to Boston got me thinking- if I were giving people ideas for what to do on a visit to Boston, what would they be? When I went to New York over Memorial Day weekend last year, I used this post from Nugs for ideas on what to do. Here’s my post on what to do when you’re a tourist in Boston!

Touristy Stuff
Public Garden and Boston Common: Two parks across the street from each other, both lovely. The Public Garden has the Make Way for Ducklings statues as well as the Swan Boats when the weather permits. Boston Common has athletic fields and Frog Pond, which is good for skating in winter or wading in summer.

Freedom Trail: For all the history buffs. It starts at Boston Common and takes you through historical sites like the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, the burying ground with John Hancock’s phallic-symbol tombstone, and the Bunker Hill Monument, which is a great exercise in stair-climbing.

Museum of Science: For all the science buffs. There’s always some cool exhibit here- I saw one last year on Pompeii- and there’s also the Omni Theater and the Planetarium, plus all the regular exhibits.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace: Faneuil Hall is a historical marketplace and meeting hall, and the area surrounding it is full of stores, restaurants, bars, and street performers.

Cheers Bar: I actually never watched Cheers and I’ve only been here once, but people seem to love going here! Just make sure you’re going to the real Bull and Finch pub on Beacon St. rather than the knockoff bar in Faneuil Hall.

Newbury St.: You have to at least walk down Newbury St., even if you don’t buy anything. It’s so lovely and old-Boston. And although many of the stores are too expensive for the likes of me, there are some cheaper ones, too.

Fenway Park: Hopefully you can go to a game, but if not, see if you can take a tour. I love this park.


The North End
The North End is the Italian neighborhood of Boston, full of restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops. I’m actually not that crazy about Italian food and therefore not the best person to ask about which restaurants to go to, but I have developed some favorites.

Fiore: I tend to forget the names of nice restaurants I go to in the North End, but this one I remember solely because of the awesome roof deck. If it’s summer, go up there at least for a drink!

Pizzeria Regina: Best pizza in Boston, in my opinion. It’s a franchise now, but the original restaurant is in the North End- go there!

Mike’s Pastry/Bova Bakery: Mike’s Pastries is very popular, with good reason. You always see people walking around with cannolis in Mike’s Pastry boxes tied with string. However, because it’s so popular, the lines can get a little nuts, so if you don’t want to wait, head one block over to Bova Bakery, which is just as good.

Restaurants
Abe and Louie’s: If you want something on the fancier side, this is my favorite steakhouse in Boston. Definitely not cheap, though.

Legal Harborside: There are a lot of Legal Sea Foods restaurants around, and they’re all good, but this one, which is fairly new, is my favorite. It overlooks Boston Harbor and if it takes you a long time to get a table (which it will, if you don’t have a reservation), go up to the top deck and order a drink and sushi while you watch the boats.

Paris Creperie: It’s not exactly an authentic French creperie, but even so, I love this place. Aside from great crepes, their Nutella hot chocolate and frozen hot chocolate are orgasmic.

Fire and Ice: This is a cool concept for a restaurant. You put as much raw meat and vegetables as you’d like into a bowl, select the sauce you’d like, and then give it to the cook in the center of the room, who throws it onto a big Mongolian grill and cooks it right in front of you. It’s a lot of fun!

Anna’s Taqueria: Cheap, cheap, cheap Mexican food. I’m a big fan, although my West Coast friends don’t seem impressed by it.

Grendel’s Den: Speaking of cheap, from 5-7:30 on weeknights, this restaurant in Harvard Square has food at half-price if you order a drink!

KO Pies: This Australian food hole-in-the-wall is right down the street from my office. Yeah, I know, Australian food? But this place has amazing meat pies, chicken schnitzel burgers, potato wedges, and Lamingtons.

Bars

Drink: This is such a cool bar. While you can order your standard wine and beer, there’s no menu–rather, you have a conversation with the bartender so that they’ll mix you something you’d like. “Let’s have a conversation about your alcoholic needs!” It looks kind of like a science lab, with long tables, and the bartenders will grind up ingredients or squeeze the juice out of fruit.

Scholars: This is a fairly new bar that has a little bit of everything- great beer list, great cocktail list, dancing, pool tables, private rooms. Also, it’s HUGE- I can’t stand bars that are cramped.

Common Ground: Most of the time, this place isn’t quite so special. But Friday night is “My So-Called 90s Night,” and dancing to all this nostalgic music is so much fun I don’t even care what I drink.

Pretty Things

Boston Harbor Islands: If it’s summer, take a boat out here. They’re beautiful and a lot of people forget about them.

Arnold Arboretum: This is in Jamaica Plain, but you forget you’re still in the city when you’re here. Great for hiking or just sitting by yourself.

Other Good Things to Know

As much as I complain about the T, you should take it in Boston. Cabs are more expensive here than in any other city I’ve visited. Don’t take the cab unless you’re taking an early flight or are at a bar until later than 1:00 AM.

For some reason, a lot of people from out of town mispronounce “Copley” as in “Copley Square.” The first syllable is “cop,” not “cope.”

If you like seafood, you should eat it. Actually, even if you’re not crazy about seafood, you should eat it in Boston. I’m convinced that you can’t get good seafood outside of New England.

We really do say “wicked.”

But I Really Just Have Friends

I’ve had this post in the back of my mind since I started contemplating gratitude at the beginning of the month, but I felt like if I wrote it, it would come out wrong. And maybe it will, but I’m still going to try and write it.

I was thinking lately about the moments of my life when I’ve been the happiest or when I’ve felt the most joy, and I realized that they have one thing in common: I was with my friends. 

Like this entire weekend, when everyone was happy. Or this summer when I saw some of my closest friends in California. Or when my BC girls and I united in DC, also this summer. Or pigging out on beer, pancakes, and cheese fries after the half-marathon a couple of weeks ago. Or last Friday, when I went outlet shopping with my friends, bought a great bag at an awesome discount, and actually had fun (seriously, that’s a huge deal- normally I hate shopping!). Or any number of moments just hanging out and laughing in college or in the six years since.

I haven’t told a lot of people about this, but I have a great group of friends I met online on a Gilmore Girls forum eight years ago or so. I’ve met a few of them in person. We’ve all seen each other through marriage, divorce, relationships beginning and ending, new babies, deaths of family members, graduations, new jobs, losing jobs, moving, and any other big life event you can think of. We’re all very different, but we’ve formed a little online family- two of them actually became roommates earlier this year. They are fun, amazing, funny, loving, forgiving people, and whenever I have something I want to talk about and don’t know who else to tell, I tell them.

I can be a difficult person to be around. I can be moody and angry and overly nervous, and sometimes I’m not successful at hiding those things about myself. But I have friends who have seen those parts of me and, for some reason, don’t judge and still want to be around me. Friends who have helped me through my worst times- my first year out of college, when Christina was one of the few things keeping me from completely losing it, and when my anxiety got really bad.

I am beyond thankful for all of this. What I need to do my best to make sure is that I am as good of a friend to these people as they have been to me.

(Post title comes from this song.)