Temporarily Permanent

In my last installment of my home leave epic my 2 ½ year old toddler C posed this question to me “Where is home?”

Good question sweetheart.

I am not sure what concept of “home” C may have though it felt different from her earlier requests to “go to hotel.” What sense of permanence does such a young person have considering their age and that in the previous 9 weeks we stayed in a total of 15 different hotels and five different homes of friends and/or family? Was she tired of moving? I cannot really say, but I know that as much as I enjoyed my Home Leave, towards the end I certainly craved something more permanent.

Now here we are in Herndon, Virginia, moving into an extended stay hotel. Right, a hotel, but it will be our home for the next 21 weeks (and just 21 weeks provided I pass my first Chinese test…Please let me pass it, please. End fervent prayer).

21 weeks.

Most people would not find this a particularly long time. It isn’t really. When I break it down and think about how much Mandarin Chinese I have to cram into my brain in such a period I panic at its incredible briefness. And yet, at the same time it feels luxuriously lengthy.

I can buy food. Lots of it. You know, like salt and pepper and sugar and soy sauce and butter and grapeseed oil for cooking. And peanut butter. And salad dressing. And eggs. And Claussen Kosher Dill Spears. And cheese. Lots of cheese. Because, you know, I have a fridge. And Q-tips and shampoo and conditioner and saran wrap and dishwashing soap because this is more than just a way station. I even bought multivitamins, so you know I mean business.

I spent nearly $275 my first trip to the store. That is just the beginning. I probably bought only half the things I wanted. This is one of the reasons per diem is so much higher at the beginning because starting from scratch is not cheap.

21 weeks.

I have so many plans!

I plan to run. I am thinking an average of 10 miles a week. On actual running trails. Surrounded by trees and stuff. I might even run with other people and I do not mean running near people in a big race but actually running with them. The novelty. Go big or go home, you know? Or, er, go big or go elsewhere when home is a frequently shifting concept. I am already signed up for a 10K the first weekend of September. That would be next weekend, yes. I also have a half marathon on the schedule in October.

I have so many plans for C. I want to take her to the National Zoo, the National Children’s Museum, and the Udva- Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. I want to take her to carousels in the area at Glen Echo Park and Clemyjontri Parks. I want to take her to the Frying Pan Farm Park and the Reston Zoo as these are places I visited when I was a little girl. I want to take her to Cox Farms Fall Festival because I took my niece a few years ago and we stayed for HOURS. I want to sign her up for toddler and mommy swim classes. Also her cousins, one of which is just 4 months older, live just 4 miles away from our hotel home. My parents live 6 miles away. I want C to spend time with her family before we head to China.

I also want to catch up with friends in the area. Many are back in the area for training of their and some of my closest friends are assigned to Washington, DC right now. It is not often so many of them are in one geographic area so I want to take advantage.
Somewhere in all of that there is this HUGE thing I am supposed to be doing. I am being PAID to do: Studying Mandarin Chinese.

When I think about studying Chinese the 21 weeks feel so very, very short. The first week is only 4 days and the first day is orientation, so really only 3 days. So, it’s 20 ½ weeks. But Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving take away those 3 days. So it is just 20 weeks. My 21st week is supposed to be my week of packing out for Shanghai and taking care of last minute details and possibly meeting with relevant offices in DC. So it is just 19 weeks. But the teachers of FSI are actually on leave the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, so it is really just 17 weeks. Seventeen weeks of classroom instruction. A regular course of Chinese is 44 weeks. Panic sets in.  It is not enough time!

So I have 21 weeks to do it all in. That’s a lot. And a little. We are at least “home,” for the time being.

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NY: The Final Frontier (Sixth and Final Phase of Home Leave 2014)

We ended our vomit-free home leave streak the same day as my toddler asked me “Where’s home?” These might be two clear signs that it is time to bring home leave to a close.

Our trip to NY was primarily about visiting family and friends with a side trip to Niagara Falls (because who could resist?).

The night before beginning our Sixth Phase we arrived at my sister’s place after midnight but were up the following day and on the road to western New York by 11 am. We were on our way to visit C’s dad and paternal grandparents who live on the  Allegany Indian Reservation. C’s grandfather is a member of the Seneca Nation, one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. C is 1/16 Seneca Indian, though as its matrilineal, neither she nor her father are members. Though C is not a member of the tribe and therefore will not receive annuity checks or qualify for scholarships, I still find knowing this part of her genealogy interesting.

I convinced her dad to go to Midway State Park where, yes, you may have guessed it, there is a carousel. The park dates from 1898 and therefore is one of the oldest continually operating amusement parks in the United States. So it is on the National Register of Historic Places. I’ll be truthful; it looked a bit neglected, there were not many people there. Yet C doesn’t give a hoot if a place is popular or not, as long as there are fun things for her to do. She enjoyed the 1948 Herschell carousel and other kiddie rides.

After visiting her dad, we then headed to Niagara Falls. Wow. Just wow. The Falls are another place I have long wanted to visit. I took C on the Maid of the Mist boat trip though I had had some reservations about standing on a crowded slippery deck with everyone wearing the same blue ponchos. Still the ride is just 20 minutes total, which is just about as much time as a toddler (or her mom carrying her) can stand. We skipped the Cave of the Winds as I had heard it was definitely not the kind of place to take a real little one (read: wide “safety” bars with plenty of space for intrepid, independent toddlers to slip through = one of mommy’s greatest nightmares). I was so glad we took the Maid of the Mist ride soon after arrival on Friday as the weather was bright and clear and warm (i.e. perfect) and there was almost no wait to board. The following day it was overcast and the crowds were in force (the next to last Saturday of summer). C also woke with a fever.

Since C was not feeling 100% we took it easy the second day, though she still insisted we go “see fish,” so we did head out for a trolley ride to the Niagara Aquarium. I would not give the aquarium a good rating as it was really, really small. Still C liked the seal and sea lion and spent all her time just watching them, so whatever, she was happy.

I also indulged my new carousel obsession and drove to North Tonawanda, New York, just 20 minutes from Niagara to visit the Allan Herschell Carousel Factory Museum. Yeah. Can you believe it? Until San Francisco I liked carousels, but now I am finding them EVERYWHERE! The Factory Museum is also on the National Register of Historic Places and, naturally, includes an antique Herschell Carousel, from 1916. C rallied long enough to ride once around and some of the other kiddie rides. She even allowed me about 30 minutes to browse through the museum part.

Then we visited historic Fort Niagara, another State Park. Unfortunately C was much less keen, so we did not have much time there. It is located at a beautiful spot at the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario and is also listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and a National Historic Landmark (two for one!). On the way back to our hotel we stopped at the Whirlpool State Park, to view the large swirling waters of the Niagara River as they churn downstream from the falls and watch the Aero Car cross perilously above the whirlpool on the Canadian side. As it was Home Leave we stayed entirely on the U.S. side, but I would love to return and spend some time across the border.

Next on the docket was a visit to Rochester to visit two friends of mine – one RH, I have known since she was 7 or 8 years old (I used to be her babysitter!) and the other MF is a friend from Indonesia who is studying for her Masters at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I have been looking forward to seeing these ladies for a long time. RH has two children of her own and although they are 5 and 13 years old, C bonded with them almost immediately. She ran to the younger boy, arms outstretched, as if she had known him a long time. Still, by the time we left she seemed more attached to the older child. While in Rochester we visited the Ontario Beach Park for a little time on the playground and several spins on the 1905 Dentzel carousel (!) and also visited the amazing Strong Museum of Play, rated as one of the country’s top children’s museum. Two and a half hours there (including lunch is the fabulous café in a 50s diner car located in the front atrium) gave us only a little time to scratch the surface. Just before we left we did have enough time to ride the 1918 Herschell carousel, also in the atrium.

Our final stop was Hamilton, NY where I met my cousin MK and her two kids. Or rather she is the cousin of my cousin and her kids the 2nd cousins once removed of my cousin, which makes them C’s 2nd cousins of her 2nd cousins. Following? It took me awhile to work that out in my head. For simplicity sake MK and I are going to be “CC’s” and the kids will be CC’s squared. We just enjoyed getting to know each other, including a fabulous home cooked dinner that included MK’s parents. MK lives just outside Hamilton, the location of Colgate University, on a lovely hill with a breathtaking summer view of the central New York countryside.

On our way home from Hamilton we stopped in Broome County, NY where six antique Herschell carousels are located. It is the only such place in the US where so many such carousels are concentrated and they are FREE for everyone to ride. I thought we might first just visit one or two, but once I learned that if we collected a card at each location we would earn a button at the end, I was committed. http://gobroomecounty.com/files/countyexec/GBVC%20Carousel%20Guide.pdf

And so ended the super amazing Home Leave 2014 adventure.

The Stats:
Total days: 60
Number of books finished: 10
Number of Children’s Museums visited: 5
Number of carousels ridden: 17
Miles Driven: Just over 5,000
Miles Flown: 15, 101
Miles Run: 62.2
Total number of States visited: 12
(TX, LA, MS, AL, TN, VA, HI, NC, CA, SD, WY, NY; 14 if you count driving through MD and PA to get to NY)

One EPIC Home Leave complete!

Running with the Leading Ladies

I have a little problem. I suppose it is more passion than a problem. I am not referring to my desire to travel to just about all the countries in the world. Nor to my enjoyment of visiting aquariums everywhere I can find them or taking my daughter to as many children’s museums as possible. Not even the new fascination with historic carousels. This is my love of running half marathons. Not really a love, more a love-hate, which is even stronger.

I started in 2006. I joined a group to help me train for the Baltimore half marathon to raise money for the Whitman Walker clinic in Washington, DC. It was not easy, but I had a good time. The following year I signed up to do the same thing for a full marathon. That was even harder. I pulled my IT band about eight weeks before the run. It took me an hour longer to finish than expected. I went back to the halves. Again and again and again…

I have one of those vague plans now to run half marathon in each state. Vague because I do not know how many I have run so far and just about every time I am in preparation or at the start line or somewhere around mile 5 or 9 I think it might be the last I run. I do not count how many I have run thus far because when I start thinking of where I might run next, I realize there are far too many left to know if this thing is possible.

So home leave 2014 approaches. I schedule out my trips, buy my plane tickets. I hope to keep running along the way when I can, when I am able to get child care. I just out of curiosity decide to see if maybe, just maybe, there might be a half marathon in the area of South Dakota where I will be visiting, when I am visiting. Wouldn’t you know it, I found one. So then I had to sign up for it.

The Leading Ladies Marathon and Half Marathon is held in Spearfish, SD. It is an all women event. The half is completely downhill through Spearfish Canyon, named the most magnificent canyon in the west by Frank Lloyd Wright when he visited in 1935. This sounded so incredibly awesome.

My first issue was child care. I am a single mom with a 2 ½ year old toddler. In the past I have found licensed and bonded child care services that send sitters to hotels, such as in Las Vegas and Cincinnati. However, a fairly in-depth online search indicated there is no such thing in west South Dakota. Makes sense, these are not large cities. Lucky for me, I floated an idea with my aunt and it turned out she and my uncle were very interested in visiting this part of the country. Score.

Then wouldn’t you know it, in late May my ulcerative colitis starts to flare up. You may or may not be aware of UC – it’s an Irritable Bowel Disease like Crohn’s (which in my experience more people are familiar with). It is as unpleasant as it sounds. I have been fairly lucky with my UC. I was diagnosed in 2000 while traveling in Tunisia. Yeah, long story. It has been active about five times including this time. So I increase my medication and pay more attention to my diet – but things are stressful. In June I am packing out of my residence in Mexico and preparing to be on the move for nine weeks until training begins in September. Not exactly easy to be on my best diet behavior.

My plantar fasciitis, which first occurred in late 2010, makes a daring comeback the day before Christmas 2013. I have been running on that heel for months. Sometimes it is absolutely fine. Some days, not so much.

Then I develop a cold two weeks into my home leave that Will. Not. Go. Away.

Training is spotty while on the road.

As we drive from Deadwood to Spearfish we take the scenic route which passes through the canyon. It is lovely, but what I see are a lot of trees. Lots and lots and lots of trees. And a winding road with a narrow shoulder. It occurs to me I am a very urban runner. When not running outside on streets full of pedestrians or busy roads, I am inside on a treadmill. I also have an OCD habit of counting things when I am getting tired or need to focus or zone out. I wonder, how long it will take till I am tired of counting trees?

Two nights before the run, the eve before the eve, I am lying awake. It is midnight and then 1 am. I am thinking I am really not ready. The previous half marathon is three and a half months before. I have not run more than six miles in a single go since then. There is the UC and my fasciitis and my cold. It is warmer than in average years (usually 44 at the start and 75 by noon but this year it is 60 something at the start and possibly in the upper 80s by noon – not that I would finish at noon). My heart pounds in my chest. I cannot remember being so nervous before a half since my first half.

I remind myself what I have going for me. 1. I have run this distance before. 2. It is all downhill. 3. There are not that many participants (less than 500 total for both events) so no real lines for the port-a-potties. 4. I do not need to set a PR. 5. I do not even have to run the whole thing if I don’t want to. 6. I do not *have* to do this at all. 7. My daughter will be waiting for me when I am done. After reaching out to my sister and a good friend and two online groups to which I belong, I feel good enough to fall asleep and feel calm the following day.

And I did it.

And it was lovely.

I ran the whole thing – with only walks through the water stops and one longish wait for a bathroom break. The first six miles seemed to fly by. I felt good, really, really good. I took it slow the whole way and despite it being all downhill I found that easy enough to do. I had my iPod with me and I remember a few songs, but not most. By eight miles I made a deal with myself – to run just one more mile and then see how I felt. I reached nine and made the same deal. Again at ten. By eleven I knew I would finish. I also knew it would be a PR – for my slowest half ever – and I was fine with it.

So another half completed in another state. Right now I still do not know how many more to go to reach all 50. I move to Shanghai next year with complicates things. I think I have at least one more in me though.

Black Hills and Bad Lands (Home Leave Phase Five)

South Dakota. I have had this on my list of must-sees for a long, long time. I remember even when living in Japan in the late 90s, plotting out a possible visit. Way back then I barely had an email account and there was no internet in my small 2DK (two tatami mat room with dining room and kitchen) apartment on the Western Japanese coast. It was just me, some maps, pen and paper. Needless to say I did not go then, but the planning continued.

Of course I have had loads of opportunities to travel in the past but I am, or at least was, more prone to travel outside of the US than in. Lured by exotic locales like Cambodia and Thailand or Italy and Croatia or South Africa and Moldova, I just could not resist. (Yeah, Moldova; I’ve been there.) Home Leave however must be taken in the US and from the beginning I knew mine this summer would include South Dakota. I worked all the other destinations around it.

Funny though, whenever I mentioned South Dakota as part of my Home Leave, it’s this part which received the most quizzical looks. Why South Dakota? Wow, really? Have you looked at a map? The concentration of National Parks / Monuments / Forests / Grasslands / Landmarks / Natural Sites near Rapid City is amazing. It’s an area steeped in tangible American history and incredible natural beauty.

Our transition from San Francisco to west South Dakota was not so smooth. Our flight out of SFO departed two hours late so we missed out connecting flight. Luckily there was a second flight soon afterwards, which departed on time. However, my aunt and uncle, who we joining us on the phase, had their flight out of Chicago cancelled arriving at midnight instead of 4:30 pm. A Juarez colleague, also on an amazing home leave, sent me a message to tell me not to forget to relax (which is not easy when traveling to so many amazing places and seeing so many amazing things). I thought then C and I would have a quiet first evening but less than 10 minutes in our hotel room and C fell off the settee (the cushion slid out from under her) and she hit the base of the bed, hard. A ping pong sized lump swelled up on her right temple. So being the relatively new mom I am I rushed her to Urgent Care. Thankfully she was fine but that was all the excitement I needed for our first day.

We had an amazing trip! Although I had planned to see many of these sights for years, I did not fully grasp how extraordinary it would be to actually see them. Badlands National Park and Devils Tower National Monument were incredible. I loved visiting Mt. Rushmore (although the parking charge of $11 seemed excessive to enter an otherwise free park– I hope the money does go to the NPS). I have heard people express disappointment with how small the monument seems in person. I was not disappointed at all. Not even when we could not complete the Presidential Trail, which takes visitors closer to the monument. The walk with 250 stairs was a bit much in the heat for my uncle who has a heart valve and me with an active toddler who wants to climb 20 steps and then beg for a “huggie” (pick me up) the rest of the way.

My aunt and uncle selected our accommodation for our third and fourth nights at the Blue Bell Lodge cabins in Custer State Park. We entered the park by a scenic back road after visiting Mt. Rushmore and had lunch in the park at the State Game Lodge, a historic building which once served as the Presidential summer residence for Calvin Coolidge and F.D.R. There are four lodge areas in the park and we stayed two nights in a cabin in Blue Bell Lodge area. It too was very lovely and our cabin came complete with 2-3 cotton tail bunnies that lived under the porch and which C enjoyed chasing.

The park is beautiful and teeming with wildlife. We took both a late afternoon and early morning drive along the Wildlife Loop Road and saw prairie dogs, mule deer, Pronghorn deer, wild burros, wild turkeys, and bison! Seriously, bison! Who does not get excited about seeing bison? And I had zero idea I would be seeing them in South Dakota as I have only ever associated them with Yellowstone. But there were A LOT of them in the park and not just along the Wildlife Loop road. We also saw them grazing on the grounds of the State Game Lodge and other campgrounds. It turned out they were hanging outside our own cabin at night as we heard their heavy footfalls, pawing at the ground, chewing, and snorting in the night!

We also visited Wind Cave National Park just south of Custer State Park. Unfortunately, we did not go inside the cave, one of the largest in the world, as the shortest tour, an hour long, did not seem the best of ideas to do with C. When we inquired if a ten minute “toddler friendly” tour might be available the park ranger had a good laugh at our expense. Well, we tried. Still, we did walk out to the small (dare I say *tiny*?) natural entrance to the cave where a strong cool breeze blew. We also saw bison and prairie dogs and every place you can see those gets high marks.

Our next stop was the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs. Originally, when it was just C and I on the trip, I had planned on staying in Hot Springs. I am SO glad my aunt and uncle joined us and suggested the state park. Hot Springs looked really tired. So, I started to worry the Site too would be a disappointment, but it turned out to be very interesting! It is designated a National Natural Landmark and is where the most mammoth (Columbian, not Wooly) bones have been found – an estimated 61 different animals! It’s an actual working archeological dig, museum, and research facility.

We passed the Crazy Horse Memorial in-progress on our way from Custer State Park to Deadwood. I had wanted to visit but the price tag, level of completion, and the number of museums C would no doubt not really let me see made the decision to stop for only a from-the-highway-photo easier.

Deadwood too is of course a famous historic area, even more so since the airing of the incredible HBO series, which I finished up just weeks before leaving Juarez. The entire town is designated a National Historic Landmark. I just wanted to stroll the streets where the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock had once frequented. I took part in a reenactment of the shooting of Wild Bill at the reconstructed Saloon #10 (though not at the original location). I rarely put my hand up for such things, but there I was, at the poker table posing as Charlie Rich, who refused to switch seats with Wild Bill (and I have no idea how to play poker, which may have been the funniest part of my reenactment). We took a tour of the Victorian Adams Mansion (a 45 minute house tour with C!!) and visited Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Spearfish followed Deadwood. From here we visited the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the Center of the Nation monument in Belle Fourche, the town founded by, yes, Seth Bullock of Deadwood fame. The town is the closest to the actual geographic center of the nation including Alaska and Hawaii. Then I ran a half marathon down Spearfish Canyon, decreed the most magnificent canyon in the west by Frank Lloyd Wright after his 1935 visit. You did read that right though. I ran 13.1 miles through the canyon from Savoy to the Spearfish City Park. Not on my own, mind you, it was an organized run. A crazy idea that turned out really well.

On our last day we stopped by a fish hatchery in Spearfish before returning to Rapid City for our late afternoon flight. A fish hatchery! Yet while in the Tri-State Visitor’s Center in Belle Fourche, we learned that our darling Seth Bullock helped to secure this federal facility. Today it is a Historic National Fish Hatchery and on the national register of historic places! We spent over an hour there and would have stayed longer if we had not needed to catch our flight.

I am tired. I will not lie about that; this home leave plan of mine is a little daunting. Yet it is also so amazing. This week in South Dakota exceeded all of my expectations. Our country is incredible.

Phase Four: Bay Area Go Round

I have been to San Francisco before. Many many moons ago I spent a month training for my certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at an institute on Market Street. I also attended graduate school in Monterey and spent a weekend or two in the Bay Area. I have been to Alcatraz and Golden Gate and Fisherman’s Wharf; I visited Chinatown and the fortune cookie factory; I rode the cable cars; I hesitantly enjoyed my first Japanese bath experience in Japan town; and I salsa-ed the night away in the Mission district. My biggest reason for visiting San Francisco was to meet up with some friends I had not seen in awhile, so entertaining C with fun activities was just icing on the cake.

We went places tailored for toddlers that I had never been: the Aquarium of the Bay, the Children’s Creativity Museum, the San Francisco Zoo, and the California Academy of Sciences and Koret Playground in Golden Gate Park. Second day in and my friend D.O.1 points out my four planned destinations all include carousels. Who knew San Francisco is a carousel mecca? Not me. But C is a horse/carousel lover, so that works out well.

Since we ended up taking part in an unexpected and enchanting tour of San Francisco’s four carousels (Pier 39, Yerba Buena Park, San Francisco Zoo and Golden Gate Park) I might as well review them.

We first rode the Italian-made double decker carousel at Pier 39, one of the country’s most visited attractions. Thankfully we were visiting on a Monday so the crowds were at a minimum, including a short line for the carousel. As carousels go, this is a young one, designed in the 2000s specifically with San Francisco and Pier 39 in mind, carved with iconic city landmarks and themes. It’s beautiful. The second level is not full, but more like a loft.

The upsides: it is easy to pay for it with three separate token machine, which accept cash and credit cards. There are also a wide variety of animals to ride and even “tea cup” seats that spin and benches that swing. C rode a horse and then a zebra and planned on a dolphin before I carried her away kicking and screaming…

The downsides: $3 a token or $5 for two tokens, yet if you want to ride twice you need to disembark and get in line again. We were lucky our day as the lines we not long and we could ride again right away. However, I imagine on many days, especially weekends, the wait could be quite long. Also, parents, even if just standing next to their toddler need to use a token as well.

Then we rode the carousel at Zeum/Children’s Creativity Museum. This lovely carousel dates from 1906. Carved by a renowned craftsman in Rhode Island specifically for San Francisco, the great earthquake and fire of the same year sent this carousel first to Seattle and then to San Francisco in 1913. It had several homes in the city until moving to it’s current location in 1998.

Upsides: The carousel is housed in a glass enclosure which not only preserves the artwork, but makes it more an all weather attraction. Its mostly horses, but there is a row each of goats, giraffes, and camels. There is one stationary lion and benches with a carved dragon. It costs $4 for two rides, and only $3 if you show your ticket or hand stamp from the museum. You purchase the ride at the carousel. There is no need to get off between rides and standing adults do not need to pay!

Downsides: Only that the seats are a bit large for a toddler and there are no seatbelts (which the Pier 39 carousel has). I attribute the larger seats to the times in which it was designed. I would expect more adults than children rode carousels in the past.

Third in our quest was the Golden Gate Park carousel. This large and beautiful carousel dates from 1912 and is also housed in an enclosure. There were quite a few animals to choose from including two cats, two dogs, two pigs, and two frogs. There was also one each of a rooster, an ostrich, a lion, a ram, a zebra, a giraffe, a deer, a tiger, and a camel. Also every horse appeared unique including one with medieval armor. (outer most animals do not move). Tickets were purchased from a nearby snack shop and cost $2 for 12 and up and $1 for ages 6-12. Under 6 ride free with an adult. C rode a horse, a cat, and the ram. I found no downsides to this carousel though I read it’s not open daily outside of the summer months despite the covering.

We then rode the carousel at the San Francisco Zoo. This 1921 antique has been located at the zoo since 1925. A little smaller than it’s Golden Gate counterpart, it too had some unusual animals to ride. There are pigs and cats, also a giraffe, lion, tiger, and deer. In addition there are two ostriches and two rabbits. It is $3 per ride and standing adults ride free. I paid for the first two rides at the entrance when I bought our zoo ticket, and the third ride in cash at the carousel. I imagine it’s not cheap to keep an antique carousel in working order but I thought this pricey per ride, especially on top of the zoo entrance fee ($17 for me).

By this time I am hooked. Now I have discovered there is a National Carousel Association. It focuses on keeping the remaining antique carousels in operation. Who knew there is such an organization? Well, I did not, but now I do. And now I have a teensy weensy infatuation with carousels.

My aunt has said addictions run in the family and that we have “addictive type personalities” in the sense that we can easily become fixated. I rarely drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I have never done any harder substance. I love Diet Coke but even that I keep to no more than two cans a day. Yet I still have my addictions, though many are travel related. (Such as visiting as many U.S. National parks, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, aquariums, children’s museums, and now carousels, as possible)

So on Friday the original plan was to head over to Berkeley to have dinner with friends. I emailed my friend to ask if she might consider driving C and I over to Tilden Park to visit the 1911 carousel if we arrived a little earlier… And she did! This 100+ year carousel is on the National Register of Historic Sites and has been located at it’s current location since 1948. Like several of the other carousels this one also had unusual animals including cats, dogs, and frogs. There is also a spinning cup, which I had only found otherwise on the one at Pier 39. I did not much care for the pricing: $2 per ride or 7 rides for $10. The seven rides sounds a great deal except that adults have to pay to ride and must stand alongside kids under 42 inches tall. And I’m not sure about you but after three rides on a carousel I start to feel a bit queasy.

And on the sixth day…
I had no specific plans for Saturday other than treating D.O.1 and D.O.2 to dinner for their incredible hospitality – they put us up for the whole week! The couple knows all about travel obsessions so were more than willing to enable my new carousel fixation. So off we went to the Oakland Zoo, where one can find the “conservation carousel,” and includes animals such as rhinos, gorillas, leopards, and giant pandas. This is a modern metal and fiberglass carousel, though it mattered little to C who is always game to ride. She rode an elephant, a zebra, and a horse. I suspect V is a traditionalist. She’s fine with trying another animal but she always wants to ride a horse.

The carousel is located in Adventure Landing, which it turns out, does not require zoo admission. We did not know that and paid the $15.75 per adult entrance fee. ($11.75 for kids 2-14) Regardless, parking is $8. The carousel is $1.50 per ride and adults standing next to small children do not have to pay. It’s a nice carousel. There were always children ready to ride but we got on each time. The biggest drawback to this carousel would have to be the music. I had paid little attention to that of the other carousels – they sounded just as expected, the classic cheerful organ music that makes you think of carnivals and cotton candy. Yet the conservation carousel turned only to a single sugary French pop song, which played over and over and over again.

So six days and six carousels!
Overall, the Golden Gate Park and Children’s Museum carousels are tied as my favorites. Given that days later C still babbled on about riding the blue horse, I would say she found Golden Gate her favorite.

I loved our week in San Francisco. The carousel hunt added an unexpectedly fun element to an already cool place.

South Again (or Home Leave 2014 Phase Three)

Driving south from northern Virginia, as I begin the third phase of my home leave, I feel, I don’t know… The word that comes to me is decadent. It has been nearly four weeks since I departed Ciudad Juarez. Four weeks since I stopped adjudicating visas and, well, let’s be frank, since I have not been working. I have had the fabulous opportunity to travel for weeks, even months, at a time in the past. For example, after I finished my three years teaching in Japan and before starting grad school or during breaks in graduate school. But I have not taken this kind of time to travel in the United States. I sort of feel, well, guilty.

I have to remind myself I earned this time off. This time off is mandated by CONGRESS. It is OK.

Yet, I still find myself thinking more about the fall, the language class that awaits me. The language class I am sort of dreading. I think about how home leave is not exactly easy. I know, I know. How many other people will have eight weeks of paid leave this year? Not many. I do not mean it is hard in the sense that I am having a miserable time. Gosh, no. However, it does, at least to me, feel a bit strange. I am itinerant, roving, nomadic. I almost want to be in language class, moving into my temporary quarters for five months, because it is for five whole months! It is easier to buy groceries when you are in one place for five months instead of five days. C is a champion. I could not be more proud that my daughter is taking this in such stride, that she is such a good traveler. But yeah, sometimes I feel guilty about that too.

Our drive destination: New Bern, North Carolina. Before I started plotting out my home leave I had never heard of New Bern. However, my long-time friend CZ had moved to the town about six months before. She was due to have her first child in May and I wanted to spend a week hanging out with her. As I looked online for things to see and do on our visit, I discovered there is quite a lot to New Bern.

New Bern was settled in 1710 by Swiss and German Palatine immigrants and is named for Bern, Switzerland. It is the second oldest European-American colony in North Carolina and served as both the capital of the colony (from 1747) and the state (from 1789) until it was moved to Raleigh in 1794. The 1770 Tyron Palace that served as the governor’s residence was reconstructed in 1959 and is the historic center of the town. Having attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, I felt an affinity for New Bern. Williamsburg too was one of the first settlements in the state and also served as both the colony and, briefly, the state capital. Williamsburg too has a governor’s palace.

New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi, first invented as “Brad’s Drink” in 1893, the inventor renamed it Pepsi Cola in 1898. The original pharmacy where Caleb Bradham sold his digestion drink still stands at the corner of Middle and Pollock Streets downtown.

Additionally New Bern is also the location of the state’s oldest chartered fire department, which is also one of the nation’s oldest.
Turns out Nicholas Sparks is also a long time New Bern resident and set several of his books in or around the town, including The Notebook.
I could hardly believe I had never heard of this town! This is the beauty of home leave – the opportunity to spend time in some of the unique, beautiful, and historical places in our large and diverse country.

We visited Tryon Palace, the North Carolina History Center, the Firemen’s Museum, took the historic trolley tour and visited the Birthplace of Pepsi. Do not give me too much credit; these were toddler-driven tours. So for example, I would have loved to visit the inside of Tryon Palace. Unfortunately that is only by guided tour, lasting 45 minutes. Yeah… The woman at the North Carolina History Center ticket counter suggested we watch the eight minute long orientation video first, as many people decide if they will get the interior palace tour after watching the film. C and I walked into the film room and in less than a minute C began repeating “No movie, no movie, no movie…” So I had my answer. If I could not watch an eight minute film with her, then there was no way we would survive a 45 minute guided tour! So instead C allowed me approximately 30 minutes to circle the palace via the gardens. The 90 minute trolley tour was only possible through the magic of iPad videos. And still I missed the two stops at the historic Cedar Grove Cemetery and Christ Episcopal Church as a certain toddler in my care wanted nothing to do with them.
Yet we easily spent 45 minutes to an hour at the Birthplace of Pepsi, which is a small space including a soda fountain area where Bradham’s original pharmacy once stood and an area with Pepsi souvenirs. This is no World of Coke. But C savored her first ice cream float, one spoonful at a time.

We also went to the Aquatic Center to swim and spent the day at Atlantic Beach. We hung out with CZ at her home, C playing in the backyard pool with another friend’s son. We went out on the Trent River in CZ’s sister’s boat with her sister, brother in law, nephew, and boyfriend and saw Nicholas Spark’s home while snacking and swimming. Well, CZ swam with C as I am not keen on swimming places where the water is not clear.
It was a fantastic week.

And now I am preparing for Home Leave Phase Four. One month down and still a month to go!