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Pedestrian

A few years ago, Earl and I went to Dublin to attend the wedding of my brother- and sister-in-law. When we arrived in Dublin and made our way to the city center, I had an immediate sense of familiarity, even though that my first occasion to leave the North American continent. There was something that felt very comfortable, very grounding. It just felt right. Somewhat surprised at this, I realized that among other things, Dublin was a very pedestrian friendly city. People were walking about the city center. It was a very normal, standard, everyday thing but I was struck by the number of people walking around.

Now, naturally I don't need to travel off of North America to experience this. The United States, while a very automotive-centric society, still has millions of people walking their city streets at any given moment. However, being in a foreign land and thus having my senses heightened a bit, I was more aware of my need to be able to walk.

Living in a relatively rural area of Upstate New York doesn't really afford me the opportunity to enjoy an urban stroll. Even to get to the closest Dunkin' Donuts is a mile walk along a county route that has no facilities for pedestrians aside from a small shoulder wedged between the pavement and a four-foot deep drainage ditch. The posted speed limit on the route is 45 MPH but that is rarely obeyed or enforced. The bright side is, cycling is a no-brainer in this area, but walking can be a challenge.

Spending the Labor Day holiday weekend in Chicago has given me the opportunity to do a lot of walking. We are walking everywhere and if we are not walking we are utilizing mass transit. Luckily my cyclist legs are enjoying this change in exercise without complaining too much. I know that I am enjoying this change of pace immensely. The idea of walking to Starbucks or to the market or to the Apple store or wherever is highly appealing to me.

I know that if my husband and I relocate we have to move to a place that affords us a much better pedestrian experience. While there are many things that I love about living in rural Upstate New York, there are many things that we miss out on, including the experience of not having to drive any and everywhere.

I think one of the things that might be plaguing the general health of Americans is the reliance on our automobiles. And now that I think about it, not only does it plague our own personal health, but it's affecting our environment and it isolates us from being around other people. I think an important element of a strong society is being a society that spends time physically around one another. Even in the carpool lane, our cars isolate us.

Relocating to a specific urban center would have to feel right for us and our adventure this weekend has shown me that one of the things I need is to be in a place that is very pedestrian friendly.

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*Before I Die I Want To… *

While walking around in Louisville, Kentucky these other day, I spotted an entire storefront covered in chalkboard with the header "Before I die I want to __________________".  All of the blanks had been filled and some had written where the wasn't a blank.  I was happy to see the participation.

I didn't get a chance to write on the board because I couldn't find a piece of chalk.  So here it is:

Before I die I want to live without hesitation.

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Day 5: Ankeny, Iowa

People have asked me, "Why on earth would you want to live in Iowa?" 99.9% of the time the people that have asked me this have never been to Iowa. The other .1% did live in Iowa but he was kind of surly.

We don't live in Iowa. We don't have plans to live in Iowa. I once considered taking a programming job (building radio station automation software on Linux and then installing it in radio stations) in Emmetsburg, Iowa, but that was a long time ago. It wasn't the fact that it was Iowa that prevented me from taking that gig.

Today we drove halfway across Iowa from Appleton, Wis. Most of our day was spent driving, though we did have lunch and supper at locally owned eateries as we passed through little towns. I checked on Earl a few times to make sure he was still awake as we made our way across US Routes 20 and 65. I'm kind of happy that we avoided the interstates on this leg of the route as it gave us the opportunity to see some small towns and to do a little bit of exploring here and there.

We did discover that Frank Lloyd Wright's "Walter House" and "River Pavilion" in Quasqueton are both closed at 4:00 p.m. on a Monday afternoon. This was disappointing as we are both big fans of his architecture. When we win the lottery we are going to have one of his institute graduates design us a nifty place to live.

Driving across Iowa in August one will notice that there are four main sights to see: corn on the left/soybeans on the right, soybeans on the left/corn on the right, corn all over, soybeans all over. I still love every moment and every mile. Everything has that wide open feeling. I dream of having a house in the middle of a few trees, surrounded by 10-20 acres of farmland that we'd let someone else farm. We'd stock up on groceries so that we didn't have to run to town everyday and we'd have a quiet, peaceful existence.

The Philly boy in my husband shudders at the thought. Green Acres isn't his place to be.

Nevertheless, I find the countryside to be beautiful here, and it has been a wonderful day.

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Day 4: Oshkosh, Wis. (EAA AirVenture)

I find it kind of interesting that while celebrating my 12th blogoversary today I realized that my first blog entry ever was about flying with my Dad in his then brand new Acro-Sport II, the first plane he had ever built in its entirety. The reason I find it interesting is because we traveled to Oshkosh, Wis. to attend the dedication service of the newest members to be added to the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Memorial Wall on the museum grounds here in Oshkosh. Today was also the last day of AirVenture 2013.

I attended what was then called the EAA Convention and Fly-In back in 1984 with my grandfather and Dad. The three of us made the drive out here to spend a few days chatting with other pilots and plane builders, seeing the sites and watching airshows. My dad was energized during that trip because he loved flying and airplanes so very much. The trip is most memorable for me because it was the first time that as a teen I felt really close to my dad and that I really "got" his passion for aviation. We'd flown together many, many times and it was always apparent that he loved piloting a plane, but I really saw his passion during that trip. It was impressive and I learned a lot about him those few days.

Since my Dad passed on doing what he loved the most, my sister and I felt that it was only fitting to have him remembered by being included on the EAA Memorial Wall. The ceremony was very nice and respectful. The playing of Taps, followed by the missing man formation overhead, was very touching. I felt really close to my Dad again, though he's been gone since the end of 2011. I knew that he was smiling.

My sister and Mom and nephew and cousin needed to head back home right after the ceremony, so we said our good-byes and then Earl and I headed back to the Jeep, changed into shorts and headed over to the AirVenture grounds. Earl had never been to a "Fly-In" before, and AirVenture is the grand-daddy of all Fly-Ins. It was as I remembered it but much bigger than it was in '84. Earl and I spent the afternoon looking at the displays, watching the planes take off and land and Earl listened to stories of the times I spent at the airport as a kid and all the times I had gone flying with my dad and friends. He's heard the stories before, but he still feigns interest.

The airshow was quite a sight. It amazes me what a talented pilot can do with his airplane or helicopter: planes flipping over tail over nose, pilots maneuvering in seemingly impossibly tight formation, helicopters flying backwards, men skydiving at unbelievable speeds and one man strapped to a four jet engines and a wing to become "JetMan". Awesome stuff, indeed. I think I might have mentioned to Earl at least a dozen times that I really need to get my pilot's license. I try to shrug off this desire to fly, since I think it's just a lingering wish from my teenage years, but I can't shrug it off. The idea of flying us somewhere in something like a Cessna 182 is amazing to me. I get very excited just thinking about it; it brings a grin to my face that my Dad would find to be quite recognizable.

AirVenture is fun for anyone with even a passing interest in aviation and if you're inclined or in the area, I highly recommend the experience.

You'll see lots of people grinning from ear to ear. You'll know they have aviation fuel in their blood.

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Roundabouts

So last night my husband and I went to the movies whilst on vacation here in Appleton, Wisconsin. It really isn't odd for us to go to the movies while on vacation; we like to see how movie theatres might differ from what we are used to at home and I like to compare picture and sound quality and the like.  We watched "The Way Way Back". Good movie.

Prior to the previews and the actual picture was a bunch of advertisements. Sprinkled amongst these ads was a spot from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The ad focused on roundabouts.  If you're not familiar with a roundabout, it's basically the replacement of a traffic signal. The roundabout encourages slow traffic movements and is easier on the environment (less emissions for needless stopping for a traffic signal during low traffic conditions) and is more aesthetically pleasing for the neighborhood. While very popular in Europe, I believe roundabouts have only started appearing in the U.S. in full force over the past decade or so, and even then the implementation has been hit or miss.

The roundabouts in our native Upstate New York are fairly rare but are now being introduced at a hurried pace. Since we do have a few Traffic Circles from the 60s, people in our area tend to treat roundabouts the same way: punch the gas, close your eyes and go. It's much like the behavior I have experienced on Massachusetts Rotaries.  Roundabouts are not designed for this. The rules are simple:

1.  Stick to the speed limit, usually 15-25 MPH.
2.  Yield to traffic coming from your left.
3.  Pay attention to lane markings and signs so you know what lane you're suppose to be in when you enter the roundabout.

It's really a simple concept when you get the hang of it and the Wisconsin DOT does a fantastic job of explaining this in the ad that we saw last night and on their web site at http://dot.wi.gov/safety/motorist/roaddesign/roundabouts/index.htm.

As I drove up US Route 41 from Oshkosh to Appleton, I noticed that the fairly new freeway included quite a few roundabouts at the interchanges. This is a brilliant approach: why put up a traffic signal when traffic counts might not warrant the expense but why risk stop signs for traffic that could be turning onto a higher speed rural road. The roundabout is a brilliant fix (and it helps with "traffic calming").

I'm happy to see that WisDOT is taking the initiative to implement roundabouts and that they're being proactive in their education of the public.  I hope other states follow their lead.

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Blogoversary

It's kind of fitting that I've kicked my interest up in blogging again through this "Blogs of August" that I'm doing on Google+, because 12 years ago today I wrote my first blog post, back when I was calling it an online journal.

I still remember writing that first post, using FrontPage '98 on Windows ME on an old computer I had pieced together while waiting for Mandrake Linux to install on the computer I had at the time. I had nothing that resembled blogging software. I didn't even use the term blog. The website lived on web hosting space that was included with our Earthlink dial-up account. The entry was written in pure HTML.

My life has gone through many changes in these 12 years, say nothing about the evolution of my blog and where it has gone. I have gone from "maintaining an online journal" to trying to share information, make people smile and providing a peek into the geekdom inside my head. There have been times that I've considered just giving it up but I never can. I always go back to this little experience that I've built to share my experiences.

Thank you for reading. I've made some nifty connections met some cool people in real life by way of this blog and I'm looking forward to continuing this theme.

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Well here I am trying to maintain an on-line journal. I hope to do this once or twice a week to let curious people know what the heck is going on with our life. Today Earl and I went along with my …

Day 3: St. Charles, Ill. – Milwaukee – Appleton, Wisconsin

So today we made our way up the Fox River Valley to the next stop of our vacation, and that is the EAA AirVenture going on in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This is the second time that I have been to Oshkosh for this event; my first visit was in 1984, just after my 16th birthday, with Grandpa Country and my dad. I'll probably write more about that connection tomorrow.

Staying true to our plan, we tried to take the non-freeway route as much as possible while keeping the adventure to a reasonable timeframe. Our first stop was at Starbucks in Crystal Lake, Ill. for a little caffeine jolt in the way of the unsweetened, shaken iced green tea that we are fond of. From there, we crossed into America's Dairyland and found ourselves in Milwaukee.

I have to admit that I watched for the "Welcome Milwaukee Visitors" sign on the tower that one would see during the beginning credits of Laverne and Shirley, but we never found it. While I navigated city streets, Earl Yelped our way to Lulu's Cafe in the Bayview area of the city. The atmosphere was right up our alley with the high ceilings and the exposed brick walls in this repurposed building along a fairly busy street in the area. With Lulu's Cafe we added the "avoid chain restaurants" option to the vacation. Let's see how long that holds.

Though AirVenture is taking place in Oshkosh, we are staying in nearby Appleton, Wis. until Monday, and to get there, we decided to go around the opposite side of Lake Winnebago. It was a pretty drive that was reminiscent of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.

Once we were beyond the drama of our hotel reservation (see the blog entry entitled Travelocity — grrrrrr in a bad way), we drove down to Oshkosh to see where we had to be tomorrow morning and then to enjoy the downtown area which had a fairly artsy vibe going on. There was a lot of music in the area and quite a few people enjoying the various taverns and the like.

Reacquainted with Oshkosh, we headed back to Appleton, where we decided to try the local theatre chain and saw "The Way Way Back" (highly recommended).

Overall the trip has been a smashing success and we are just getting started. I am definitely feeling relaxed.

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Travelocity

So we pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Appleton/Kimberly, Wisconsin, excited about this next part of our adventure. My partner gave his last name at the front desk, the customary way of checking in for the night.

No reservation.

I gave my last name, remembering I had booked the reservation through Travelocity. One of the things about this particular reservation is that I had snagged one of the last one or two rooms in the area due to the EAA AirVenture (http://www.airventure.org/) currently taking place in nearby Oshkosh (the reason we're in town here).

No reservation.

And they were completely sold out.

Using the Travelocity email that was provided to me when I booked the room back in April, I showed the front desk clerk my reservation number, which apparently did not have enough digits nor did it even resemble anything that they had ever seen before.  The fact that "Your credit card has been charged" was emblazoned across the bottom of this reservation escaped no one's notice.

The hotel clerk was very apologetic and if you're ever in the area looking for a hotel, I can vouch that Amanda at the Hilton Garden Inn is very friendly and professional, even when dealing with Travelocity on a customer's behalf.  They arranged the refund to our credit card for us and even checked into the nearby Hampton Inn to see if there was a room available.

We snagged the last room. It's a room with one double bed but they're providing a cot (we're big boys) so all is good.

However, Travelocity has been a complete fail.  Not knowing that the clerk at Hilton Garden Inn had arranged for our refund (we were driving across the city trying to get this last room at the Hampton Inn), we were on hold for over 25 minutes listening to really bad hold music and a woman with a Brooklyn accent letting us know that someone "will assist ya soon" ever 15 seconds. When I finally reached the customer service representative, he made the mistake of asking how I was doing today.

"I am aggravated."  I think he was taken aback by my response. I was just being honest.  That's the first time I actually answered how I was really feeling. It felt good.

I have to wonder how many people have traveled the world on reservations through Travelocity and had to deal with this sort of thing. Is this some sort of freak accident or is this something that happens regularly for Travelocity customers?

I can say with no trace of humor or uncertainty in my voice that this is the last time that we're using Travelocity.  The Hilton Companies have gone above and beyond for us today and there's a reason that we maintain a loyalty to their brand (my husband is a Diamond Club member due to all the travel he does for work).  

From now on I'm sticking to reservations that I know are real and leaving the middle man out. It's not worth the aggravation.

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Roaming

One of the things I love about travel is trying things that we can't do around home, even if what we're doing would seem mundane to most.

We are currently sitting in a Starbucks in Crystal Lake, Illinois. We are en route to Oshkosh, Wisconsin and are taking the back roads to get there. We are becoming well acquainted with Illinois Route 31.

Our little nook in Upstate New York lacks Starbucks. Many find this hard to believe. We are surrounded by dozens of Dunkin' Donuts franchises, and there's nothing inherently wrong with DD, but their stores lack a certain warmth and "technology comfort" that one finds in Starbucks. Plus, DD doesn't serve a Trenta unsweetened, shaken green tea. This is one of my favorite, fairly guiltless drinks. There are two ways for us to enjoy Starbucks at home: drive 50+ miles to the nearest location or to illegally sneak through the backside of one of the nearby New York State Thruway service areas and pay exorbitantly high prices for the aforementioned green tea. Plus, the service area franchisees don't believe in attaching scanners to their point of sale systems, so the clerk needs to manhandle my phone and manually input my Starbucks account number, whereas at a real Starbucks it's just a quick scan and we're on our way.

Sometimes it's the simple things that make a vacation a little extra special. And right now, it's sitting at a table in a real Starbucks, drinking a green tea that's getting this day off to a good start.

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