Sunday, November 28, 2010

Serendipity 12. A Favorite Thing Comes Full Circle

The two most common questions I get about the 52 New Things List are:
1.  Are you going to keep going after the year is over?
2.  What has been your favorite New Thing that you've discovered this year?

The answers are: yes, and, setting aside the travel destinations which are in a category of their own, rock climbing. I never, ever would have thought I'd enjoy rock climbing, much less take it up as a hobby. But that's what's happened, and though I am still certainly a novice with entirely-too-weak arms, I -- the most gear-averse person I know -- am the proud owner of my very own climbing harness and shoes, and a ten-punch pass to Petra Cliffs climbing gym.

I've had just about the greatest instructors anyone could ever ask for.  Three of them -- Amanda, Randall and Josh-- are current students at Saint Mike's and two more -- Dan S. and Conor D -- are both graduates who have become professional guides and instructors. It helps that Saint Mike's has an amazing Wilderness Program and Todd and Eben have trained all these teachers, plus many more, to guide the uninitiated -- students and staff alike -- through all kinds of outdoor activities that would otherwise probably be economically and physically inaccessible. Below are Josh and Dan at Bolton on my first-ever outdoor rock climbing experience, Josh belaying me on a second climbing trip to Bolton, and Amanda (with Randall in the background) showing me how to climb the first time I ever showed up for an evening climb at the Saint Mike's wall.

I've also been blessed with phenomenal climbing buddies.  Some have been students I got to know from climbing, and some have been students I knew from other contexts who went climbing for the first time with me and get hooked the same way I did.  One of my favorite stories in that regard was of my friend and former student Helen, who graduated last year.  I met Helen as her faculty mentor through a program we both signed up for, and the week before she graduated we were looking for a fun activity to do together.  She was a bit iffy when I suggested climbing but her usual sense of adventure took over, and we went over to Petra Cliffs to try it out. She loved it so much that the next night we went back, together with a set of other newbies -- Andres, Giselle and Jamila -- who wanted to check it out as well.

In the first pic above I'm belaying Helen on her very first time up the wall; the one next to it is from the next night, when she was demonstrating to the others (Andres, Giselle, and Jamila all pictured with her below) how it's done.  I know shes doing great things in New York, and she's still involved in stuff here through the MDG book project, but I really wish she were still around to do some more climbing as well.
I'm grateful to a whole slew of other past and present students who have all been climbing partners at one time or other.  Below is another pre-graduation climbing night with Ryan, Josh, Nigel, Ben, Sarah L., and Sarah D., as well as a night of climbing on the SMC wall from about a month ago, when 1st-year resident and climbing buddy Maura, and I convinced Kaitlyn, Maura's RA, that the rest of the floor just had to try out rock climbing under Amanda's expert guidance..

But the reason I'm writing this post, and the reference to everything coming full circle, refers to my first and most recent climbing partners and coaches, Nicole and Jai.  There are a couple things that make this full circle climbing particularly serendipitous.  One is that, of all my teachers of New Things this year, Jai is easily the youngest.  She coached me up my first wall, while her mom, Nicole, belayed me from below when she was the ripe old age of four.  Now that she is a far more mature five year old it's  still equally inspiring (and just as fun) to go climbing with her.  The other point of irony is that the first time she and Nicole served as my climbing tutors was in Nepal. Last January, on my first trip of the New Things list, I was in Nepal visiting my good friends Cliff, Nicole and Jai.  The family is certainly the most adventuresome threesome I know, and when they extended an invitation to their house guests (my new friends Jane and Kirk were there as well) to join in their weekly Saturday rock climb,  it seemed like a good time to begin the conquering of my fears and try it out.

With Jai on the wall beside me, encouraging me not to be afraid, and to trust the rope, I did my first-ever climb and I think, started off a year of challenging myself to try all kinds of new things I'd never before considered "my thing".  Not all of them have hooked me as hard as rock climbing, but all of them have been great. As I've written about elsewhere, I think rock climbing is a metaphor for life in all kinds of ways.  It has things to teach us about trust, about our own capacity in a difficult moment, and about the value of the other people who anchor our lives.  Cliff is now working in the Sudan, and Nicole and Jai are living in Vermont for the year.  Nicole and I have started getting together on Thursday nights for some climbing at Petra Cliffs, but today was the first time since our climb in Nepal that I've been on a wall with Jai.  Here's a photo from that first climb together back in January, and another of Jai making it to the top (the first of six all-the-way-up climbs) this morning.

It's not every day that an adult get to travel half-way around the world for a lesson from a four year old, and it's even more rare, I think, to have a second round with the same teacher right here in Vermont. But as this year has taught me, it really is true that anything is possible. All kinds of people can play great and unanticipated roles in our lives if we're just open to it, and I'm looking forward to learning more about the wonderful world of rock climbing from and with my friends Nicole and Jai (and Cliff once he returns), who introduced me to it on the other side of the planet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

List Update -- 49 Reasons to Be Thankful on this Thanksgiving

Incredibly, it's been almost a year since I embarked on this project.  The plan had been to start on January 1, 2010 and do a New Thing a week for a total of 52 New Things.  But as we all know, life is never quite that tidy, so I started early and have plans to go late. The list actually began on my birthday, December 10, of 2009, because that's when my friend and former student Julia, taught me how to make a blog, which served the double purpose of being New Thing #1 and being the way I've kept track of the year. And Leah and Siham, co-originators of the list idea, proposed that the "official" end of the year be the last weekend in February. That's the anniversary of our Bar Harbor trip where we climbed Cadillac Mountain to watch the earliest sunrise on the East Coast and burn our list of bad things from 2009  (and here are Leah and Siham finishing the list before we burned it).
We also decided that, once we hit the February date, we'll start a new year of more new things, mixed together with repeats of things we loved from this year.  For me that will mean 12 new things ( 1 per month), 12 things from the first list that I keep going with, and two things off the "Life List". 

So, what I have below is the list of all the New Things that have already happened, plus the list of things that hopefully still will.

New Things I've done in 2010 (all of them are linked to the pages where they are "written up"):

1. Start a blog

2. Go to Nepal
 3. Try rock climbing 

4. Try ice climbing

5. Try snow shoe hiking

6. Learn to make fresh mozzarella

7. Go cross country skiing

8. Take a Penguin Plunge

9. Go ice skating at Rockefeller Center

10. Hike Camel's Hump in all four seasons (winter spring summer fall)

11. Try skate skiing

12. See a Bar Harbor sunrise

13. Try snowboarding

14. Do a winter sport at night

15. Cook an Indian meal

16. Go downhill skiing

17. Participate in a contra dance

18. Visit the Vermont Veterans Militia Museum

19. Learn to change a bike tire

20. Learn to make a chocolate souffle

21. Visit the Washington Monument at night 

22. Take a ballet class

23. Eat a Vermonster

24. Go bird watching

25. Spend an afternoon watching car racing

26. Learn to change a car tire

27. Visit the Dominican Republic

28. Visit the Basque Block

29. Try glass blowing

30. Visit Jordan

31. Visit Jerusalem

32. Give a talk in Uganda

33. Visit Egypt

34. See a band at Nectar's and eat at Pizza on Earth

35. Go to the Rokeby Museum

36. Try haggis.

37. Go sea kayaking

38. Go punting on the Cam

39.  Visit Sweden

40.  Visit Denmark 

41. Go to Montreal for Roger's Cup and Poutine

42.  Try paddle surfing

43.  Go rock climbing OUTSIDE

44.  Bike to Hero's Welcome

45.  Go to a roller derby

46.  Take a ride in a hot air balloon

47.  Visit the Walter Reed Museum

48.  Stay up all night in the City That Never Sleeps

49.  Go to Quebec City

And here are a bunch of New Things that I'm hoping to get in during the next few months (not necessarily in this order and not necessarily a complete list):
  • Learn to knit a pair of mittens -- I was well on my way on this one, and did a whole mitten but then forgot how to do the thumbs.  But happily, I'm headed back to Tacoma to consult with my Knitting Coach (aka my sister Katrinka) for Christmas, so should be able to finish this one handily (couldn't resist saying that).
  • Eat a meal at Sloan -- Did you know that Saint Michael's College has a sit-down restaurant of sorts?  My students inform that it exists on North Campus, and so I am going with AIDS activist extraordinaire Emily and whoever else wants to before the semester ends.
  • Get a tattoo -- I am increasingly thinking that this has "birthday activity" written all over it, so I think I'll be permanently inked with a 52 before the year is done. I know that Julia is just itching to do this one together if she can swing it.
  • Sail to Alaska on a container ship -- Siham, Leah and I were already planning on going to Alaska (only state I've never visited) for spring break.  But when my brother in law Brian suggested this means of transport we just knew we had to do it.  Could there possibly be a cooler idea?  Didn't think so.
  • Go dog sledding -- While we were in Quebec City last weekend we found out that there are a whole bunch of places that take newbies out to try it.  What better reason to go back this winter?
  • Do nothing.  Was going to do this on Thanksgiving Day, but instead am going to take Chris up on his gracious invitation to spend that at his mom's house in southern Vermont.  But I will definitely find another day to officially do nothing (or something close to it).
  • Jump and spin on skates -- this one has fallen by the wayside in a terrible fashion, but I'm going to pick it back up again and get going in December. Happily, Ali just got a new job at the skating rink in Milton, and I am going to be seeing if she's up for some skating together.
  • Learn to make yogurt -- decided I needed to do this when Chris and I were in New York City for the Up-All-Night trip.  We started it off at a Greek restaurant and I realized that I simply must learn to make my own yogurt.
  • Learn to make croissants -- still need to take Dean up on his offer to teach me.  It appears that it will be a several-day lesson, but even more reason to learn something complicated.
  • Learn home maintenance -- this is one of the things I've been worst about this year.  Of the things that intimidate me -- athletics, art and anything mechanical -- I think I've done okay on the athletic stuff and even delved into the artistic slightly (well, ballet at least),  But except for Nigel's tire lessons, I'm way behind on this one, and thankfully Chris has offered to tutor me.
  • Learn to say I love you in 52 languages.  I won't quite hit it, but I have to say I've collected quite a diverse list of languages with my four phrases (I love you, May I have two beers please?, hello and good-by) over the course of this year.  I'll definitely keep at it as long as I can.
  • Have an astronomy lesson. Still going to take my colleague John up on his offer to show me and whoever else wants to some of the planets and constellations in the sky.
So, that's the update, as of late November, 2010.  I think around the New Year I'm going to do another update that lists my picks for next year's 12 new things and 12 continuations, as well as the two things I'll be working on off the life list (one of which, writing a book with students and former students, is already begun).  I also want to do a top ten list of the New Things from the first year.  So, if you have suggestions and comments, about what's already happened or about cool new things to try in 2011, please drop a comment to let me know!

I didn't realize that I'd be sending this out a few days before Thanksgiving, but the timing seems very appropriate.  It's been an amazing year, full of new experiences, new and old friends, and all kinds of life lessons. I'm especially grateful to all my family and friends who have taken the time out of their own busy lives to be a part of this project -- from making suggestions to climbing mountains (and walls!) to travelling the world together. At the end of the day, I think the only things that matter aren't actually things  (as in possessions, anyway)-- they're experiences and relationships, and I've been abundantly blessed in the last year with both.

Monday, November 22, 2010

49. Go to Quebec City

So, we've been talking about going to Quebec City for forever, and this last weekend we finally made it. Co-list originators Leah, Siham and I try to get together every two to three months to do something that's on all three of our lists and revise and add to them.

Siham had already been to Quebec City several years ago, but was still raving about it, and Leah and I had never been, so we decided that this would be our fall destination.  They drove to Burlington on Thursday night to pick me up, and after some last-minute work things Friday morning, we headed to Canada.  We arrived at our very cute little hotel within the walls of the old city, the Chateau de Pierre, well after dark, and agreed that we had, indeed made a very good choice.  Here's Siham using Leah as a human pillow while she changed her Facebook status to reflect her happiness with being in Quebec City.
The next morning after some yummy crepes, we headed to the visitor center to check out all our options.  It had snowed the night before, and Quebec City is already all decked out for Christmas, so just walking around felt very festive (though in a cold sort of way).  In the tourist center we had, of course, to do the obligatory pose with the Bonhomme who, I guess signifies all that is fun (or at least cheesy) about Quebec.

For those who have not yet had the great good fortune of visiting Quebec City (or Ville de Quebec as it is called there), I strongly suggest you add it to your travel agenda.  And when you go, I have a few tips to add to the experience.

First, it's nice to bring someone, or a couple people, to share it with. The city is one of the most romantic places I've ever been, so couples take note.  On the other hand, it's also just plain fun, so a road trip with friends (especially one as linguistically talented as Siham is also a good option). Second, you MUST center your trip around Vieux Quebec, the Old City which is easy to find because it's enclosed by still-existing city walls.  Our little hotel was within the Old City, as were the sites of the pictures above.  In one, Leah and I are standing in front of the Chateau Frontenac, reportedly the most photographed hotel in the world.  In the other Leah and Siham are excitedly pointing out the container ship moving through the Saint Lawrence, which we all took as an omen of good fortune for one of our next big adventures, the trip the three of us are planning by container ship to Alaska (with some help from my fabulous brother-in-law Brian) during spring break. For now, though, Quebec City suited us just fine. We ate way too much (I think the fondue that Siham and Leah are enjoying was our favorite, but the crepes were awfully good too, and we just had to have poutine so Leah could try it), and explored all over the town.  The last picture is of Siham and I on the open-air ice rink at the Place D'Youville.  Since it was 1 in the morning, it was alas, not open, but we just had to check it out anyway, and make a promise that next time, we're going skating  And there will certainly be a next time.  If' you've never been, put it on your list  And if you have, ask yourself why you haven't gone back already!

Coming Attractions
Whenever Leah, Siham and I get together we do a list overhaul, and this time was no exception.  We have a whole slew of New Things planned to close out this year and start the next.  I'm going to do a separate post on the updated list so watch for that.

52 Ways to Say I Love You...
My friend and colleague, Valerie, had her sister, Judith Miller, demonstrate the four phrases in American Sign Language. I'm going to see if I can post the video goes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

30. Visit Jordan Post script -- A presentation on water scarcity

There are a few things I don't like about my job (like grading and paperwork, both of which I can never keep on top of) and many more that I absolutely love. One of the things in the latter category is the oppportunity to travel to amazing places and meet incredible people in the course of doing research. Another is the chance to work with wonderful students who are as excited as I am about research and travel. The best of all is when those two things coincide, as they did this summer when my friends Connor (a current student) and Siham (a former student) and I all went to Jordan to learn about water scarcity there. Along the way we got to have one of the biggest adventures of our lives (our time in Petra) and collectively decided that Jordan is probably the most hospitable country on earth (and that's saying something because I never thought I'd find a place that would edge Tanzania out of that title).

I made several postings from Jordan recounting both our research and our adventures there; the one that is most directly relevant to this one is the post I did about our visit to the Baqa'a Refugee Camp .

After we got back Connor and I started working on a paper about what we had learned, and this weekend, we presented it at the Northeastern Political Science Association Annual Meeting. The paper was called "The Politics of Water Scarcity Among Refugee Communities in Jordan" and looked at the double challenge that Jordan faces in terms of hosting a huge population of refugees (especially relative to the country's size) at the same time the entire country is suffering under an extreme water shortage. It is just the beginning of what we hope will be a more extended exploration of these issues, and we hope to go back to Jordan to work with some of the same people who were so helpful to us in teaching us about the problem last summer.

Of course, it would be too much to expect that everything about the day would go off perfectly smoothly, and we hit a small hitch about an hour into the trip when I realized that the curb I went over a few days ago had torn some piece of the undercarriage of the car that was now scraping the road. Happily, Connor in his capacity as Manager of Turtle Underground, our on-campus live music venue, just happened to be carrying a roll of duct tape in his backpack and crawled under the car to do a temporary fix. This fit right in with the role Siham and I had given him in Jordan, when despite the fact that we are both self-proclaimed feminists, we kept making Connor do the "guy things" like sit in the front of all taxis and eat all the extra food that was urged on us by our hosts when all of us were too full to eat another bit.

With no further mishaps we made it to Boston and attended our conference. We went to another session before ours where I was the person assigned to discuss the papers presented, and then we presented ours in panel on environmental politics later in the afternoon. In the picture I put in here Connor and I are posing with Amanda (Mandy), an SMC grad who's now in her third year as a PhD student at U Mass Amherst.

After the conference Connor and I met up with Siham, who lives in Boston now, for dinner at Durgin Park in Faneuil Hall. Then we got back on the road and headed back to Burlington. The whole experience had us all reminiscing about all we had learned and done in Jordan, and I've included a few photos from the original trip. There's one of Mazen, who took us into the camp, together with Issa, the camp's Executive Director. Another is of Siham as we were walking through some of the housing at the edge of the camp, and one of Connor, Siham and I waiting to be served tea in the home of a group of women whose house we visited. They don't have a water tank, so as you can see, try to keep a supply of water in containers outside their home.

It's easy to caught up in everyday life and forgot about the rest of the world in the rush of deadlines and classes and plans. But I'm lucky to work in a field that allows me and the students I work with to keep going with information that we gather. This paper was a very small step in the much larger struggle of figuring out how to include the people who are suffering the most in decisions about how to divide scarce resources like water. But there is a whole lot more work to go on that one!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Serendipity 7. Part II Writing a book with 28 student/alum co-authors

I spent my Sunday afternoon in a basement yesterday, and so did fifteen of the students and alumni who are part of the book project I wrote about as "Serendipity 7" back in September. We're writing a book on the Millennium Development Goals, a textbook by (current and former) students for students. The basement in question is called Turtle Underground and is located on Saint Michael's North Campus. It was generously offered by Connor, who manages the space for all manner of music performances, and once we had all assembled, we did our usual circling up to tackle the afternoon to-do list.

As I mentioned in a previous email, this is a project without a manual. There may be other student-alumni teams working as volunteers with their professor to write a text on an understudied-but-important topic, but if there are, I'm not aware of it. We're building the ship as we sail it, and so far the journey's been great. Today's meeting had two main objectives. The first was to assemble the student teams that would be working on each chapter that form the core of the book (each chapter is devoted to one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and there are three to four individuals assigned to each chapter) so they could each go over the chapter outline and begin to create a work plan. The second was to make some critical decisions on the four countries we will use as case studies and examples throughout the book.

After much discussion about first, criteria for our decision-making and second, individual country cases that had been nominated in the previous two months, we settled on two of the cases: Ecuador and the Palestinian Territories. We will still need to pick two additional cases, one from sub-Saharan Africa and one from South Asia, and should have the decision finalized in less than a week.

Of course, one of the coolest things about this project is the chance to see great alumni, and the fact that the project gives them an additional reason to be back at SMC on a regular basis. One of the photos above is from a pre-meeting brunch with the ones who stayed at my house over the weekend, Drisk, Siham, and Julia, who are all working on the book, and JD who is busy with his grad program at Northeastern, but was a wonderful sport in driving some of the others from Massachusetts. In the spirit of new things (and of not feeling like waiting an hour for brunch at the SMC standbys of Penny Cluse or Sneakers), we ventured into the Old North End to try out Nunyuns, and will definitely be back -- great space, great food and NO LINES.

The photos from the meeting at Turtle Underground feature Julia getting ready to take notes while the rest of "circled up" for the meeting, and Drisk and I going over a document he wrote. Finally, there are some team shots. One is of Kate B., Claire and Connor who are writing the chapter on MDG 2 (Universal Primary Education), and the second is of Julia, Cailie and Lucia, who are doing MDG 3 (Gender Equity). More than half of the total group was able to make this meeting, which wasn't bad considering we've got co-authors contributing from as far away as Oxford, England (Jamila), and all over the East Coast. Here's the group that was there yesterday: (back row) Connor, Drisk, Josh H., Ben, me, Alexsis, Lauren, Matt and Cailie; (front row)Annie, Julia, Josh B. Siham, Claire, Kate B., and Lucia. There are graduates from as far back as '06, current sophomores and everything in between.

The meeting lasted for three hours, and as we were clearing out I was once again struck with the thought that Saint Mike's draws a lot of truly fabulous students to its campus, and it's an incredibly lucky thing to be able to work with them there, and even after their time on campus is done. Just as with this book project, we're all in it for the long haul, and in a world that's all about instant gratification and immediate results, that's an especially good thing, I think.

Monday, November 1, 2010

48. Stay up all night in the City that Never Sleeps

Last night I realized that the year of 52 New Things is drawing to a close (as in 5/6 or 83% of the way done, for those who count such things). It doesn't really matter, since first, Leah, Siham and I have agreed to extend the "year" till the end of February and second, even after that, I've decided to extend the whole project into a Phase II (12 things continued from the original list, 12 new things and two things off the Life List). But still, it's funny to think how many things have happened over the past year, and that I'm now actually entering New Thing #48 on the list.

New Thing #48 is in the category of things-I've-always-wanted-to-do-but-never-figured-out-how. But now I have. I'm grateful to Chris, who was totally up for spending the past Halloween weekend in New York City and the first part of it was spent Staying Up All Night in the City that Never Sleeps. Should anyone else have secretly wanted to do this, the options below, which are the ones we chose, might be helpful. Here's a play-by-play of how one stays up all night and keeps going the following day.

8 PM: Arrive in New York City and drive to Manhattan to a garage where the car will be deposited for the weekend.

9:30 -- 11 PM: Get some dinner. I'd recommend the spot we chose, the Greek Kitchen, where we feasted on stuffed grape leaves, hummus, Greek salad and gemistes and pastitso, and Chris even tried my retsina, which to the uninitiated tastes a bit like Pine Sol (it's white wine cured in barrels coated with pine sap -- definitely an acquired taste).

11:30 PM Head over to the IFC theatre for a midnight movie only to find that neither of us really want to see it.

MIDNIGHT: Pop into an Irish bar for a drink and a chance to see what people on their way to and from Friday night Halloween parties are wearing this year (the cat costume is a perennial favorite for women -- especially the low effort cat ears plus painted whisker version).

1:30 AM Decide to take a really, really long walk down Broadway. Pass through Times Square, which is in full swing, and where you can buy anything at all (though we didn't). Take a detour around Central Park to walk through some posh neighborhoods that clearly in a competition for best Halloween decorations and snap some photos there. Watch a couple in their Halloween costumes have an argument and try not to laugh as Howdy Doody and the Swiss Miss exchange serious words.

3 AM: Go to an all-night diner, the West Side Restaurant, for eggs, toast and pancakes, and watch the other early-morning people drink their coffee and/or bring in the early morning deliveries.

4:00 - 7 AM: Take the subway all the way from uptown Manhattan to the end of the line at Coney Island. Get out and peruse the wall of Champion hot dog eaters at the original Nathan's hot dogs, and wander through the boarded-up buildings and rides that have closed for the season. Coney Island may have seen better days, but the newly-reconstructed boardwalk is wide and walkable and the perfect place to watch the sun come up (with a fake palm tree in the background!). Then take the subway all the way back.

7:30 AM: Head to the Trump Tower for coffee and tea and strategically place yourself to scoop up the two comfy chairs in order to stretch out and lounge around for a lazy hour. Check out the gardens up top.

10 AM Go window shopping at FAO Schwartz, watch people dance on the giant piano that Tom Hanks made famous in the movie Big, and look through all the candy that you haven't seen since you were a kid, like pop rocks and candy necklaces and those wax bottles of colored sugar syrup. Don't forget to say hi to Chewbacca from Star Wars in the Lego exhibit.

11 AM Walk to Central Park. Lay around in the sunshine, walk through the forested area called the Ramble, listen to musicians playing near the merry-go-round, visit the Belvedere Castle, watch the ice skaters (and be bummed that neither of you brought either skates or rollerblades since it would have been a perfect day for either) and watch hundreds of kids in costumes wind their way through the Pumpkin Festival.

2 PM Walk over to Zabar's, a giant and legendary deli/specialty food store that Chris introduced me to on this trip. He warned me before we went in that the store is not for agoraphobics or anyone who can't stand someone else in their space. But if you can handle being packed in like a sardine and constantly backing into someone you can buy smoked salmon (NOT lox, which I learned from Chris is an inferior substitute) and all manner of tasty bakery and deli items for do-it-yourself picnic fun.

4 PM Check-in at the Portland Square Hotel. What the hotel lacks in charm, amenities and towels, it makes up for in location (a stone's throw from Time Square) and price (sort of -- for New York, anyway). Plus, when the people staying there have been up for about 32 hours straight, anyplace to take a nap looks pretty good.

We went to bed very early that night and slept pretty soundly. The next day we had an awesome walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and mosied on back through Chinatown, where I took the opportunity to buy some steamed buns filled with red bean curd that I thought were great and Chris thought resembled rubber cat toys. One more trip to Zabar's to load up on more fun foods for the ride home and some kitchenware, and we were back in the car and on our way home.

Even when I was a little kid, I thought New York City was a fascinating place. It really was a memorable experience to get to see a lot of it -- from Coney Island to uptown Manhattan -- at all hours of the day. Of course, it wouldn't have been any fun at all if Chris hadn't been totally game to explore the corners of the city at all hours of the day and night. But his superior sense of direction, greater knowledge of the city and willingness to explore all manner of new things in one of the greatest cities on earth helped make the most of the adventure. Everyone should be so lucky, at least once in their life.

Coming Attractions The weather is getting colder, which means it's time to kick some of the winter sports I tried last year plus some of the ones I didn't get to, into high gear. Definitely time, for instance, to get going on my still-unaccomplished ice skating new things. But there are also some more events on the horizon, namely:

Go to Quebec City. Siham, Leah and I are headed up for a glorious weekend in a new place November 19-21.

Do nothing. I'm going to do this on Thanksgiving, but haven't decided whether it's going to be in my own home (when I really will do absolutely have as little contact with others, and as little activity as possible) or in Quebec at an Ashram where I will meditate and do yoga for a couple of days with my friend Paul. Either way, I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like.

Learn how to make homemade yogurt. The dinner in New York City at the Greek Kitchen made me remember how much I like Greek food, and I decided to add a new culinary skill to the list. Chris thinks he might want to learn, too: anyone know how to do it, or want to learn with us in the next month or so?

Get a tattoo. Still planning on getting my "52" tattoo on my birthday (December 10). Details to be determined.

52 Ways to Say I Love American Sign Language My friend and colleague, Valerie, had her sister, Judith Miller, demonstrate the four phrases in American Sign Language. However, after spending too much time fruitlessly trying to embed the video, I've decided to save this one for another New Thing. Watch for it -- it's great.