Moooove over, Indy

The Year of the Dairy Cow.

Indiana State Fair logoNo, not a Chinese zodiac reference (I’m a PIG anyway). This is the theme of the Indiana State Fair, starting next Saturday, August 3 and first held in 1852. The American Dairy Association of Indiana is sponsoring this endeavor, and a beautiful bovine named Buttercup is playing host to adults and kids alike at the fairgrounds. Last year was the Year of the Soybean … sorry I missed it.

According to the Blue Ribbon Blog: “There are more than 1,500 dairy farms in Indiana housing 176,000 cows. These farms produce about 3.5 billion pounds of milk, accounting for nearly $500 million in milk production each year. Indiana also ranks second nationally in ice cream production.” That’s a lot of dairy.

I just missed my chance to enter the Big Cookie Decorating contests co-sponsored by the ADA and Ellison Bakery. A 6-inch cookie canvas and milk to motivate the artists? Brilliant. But I will NOT miss the goods at Cowtown USA: a chance to milk a cow, carve some cheese, and chow down. Think about all the glorious things made from dairy products: milkshakes, butter, grilled cheese sandwiches, ice cream. I love this fair already and I’m not even there yet.

Having never been to a state fair before, I have some preconceived notions that I must confess:

* There really are blue ribbons awarded to competitors
* Produce can win prizes; one of these must be for Biggest [insert vegetable here]
* Some sort of eating contest must take place
* Small children showcase their animals for bragging rights
* There should be a tilt-a-whirl or a Ferris wheel
* All food is fried, from cookies to corn dogs
* Somewhere among the livestock is a beauty pageant, and reigning royalty
* The scene is wholesome by day, and shitfaced by night
* A spider lives in the eaves of each pig stall and spins prophetic webs after dark

blue ribbon

photo credit: priesters.com

Ok maybe no E. B. White characters, but some photo-worthy moments to be sure. I also have some outrageous secondhand stories floating around in my memory about cow-patty throwing and pig-calling, but I remain open minded. What I did not expect was a long list of entertainers at the fair, from Barry Manilow to Journey to Blake Shelton. Mat Kearney is playing on the same stage as Train, but one ticket ranges between $50-75, which I am not paying. I should add that MC Hammer is also on the schedule. I hope they put a cow in parachute pants.

General admission is $10, but you can find discount tickets ($7) at local Indiana stores like Walmart, CVS, and others. There is a $2 Tuesday admission, sponsored by Turkey Hill (more dairy, obviously). Tuesday is also the night of “Taste of the Indiana State Fair” but that’s a long haul for me on a weeknight. Nonetheless, promises of food from “corn dogs to deep fried oreos; pineapple whip to ears of corn; fried cheese to a chicken parfait” are very enticing. I also stumbled across a significant list of savings opportunities online for Indiana state employees, car-poolers, seniors and more.

The Midway appears to be an expensive affair – up to $25 for a wristband. The Indiana State Fair website advertises big savings at local Walmarts, where you can buy a wristband for $18. There are several early bird opportunities, but I’m not sure I can handle roller coaster action at 11 a.m. Free parking does exist at a nearby mall parking lot 4 miles from the fairgrounds, with shuttle service running every 20 minutes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Affordable $5 parking is also available near the main gate, or a short distance away.

My camera and I will be in attendance on Saturday, August 4: “Ball State Day.” Stay tuned for tales from the fair!

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aim your dart and go

I have a thing for maps. I have three hanging in my one bedroom apartment, two courtesy of National Geographic and one courtesy of a tiny bookshop in southern Spain. Yes, I do that thing where I keep track of my travels with pins. In fact, that map is at home in Pennsylvania – so, Mom, I hope you’re keeping up.

Here in Illinois I wake up to the World, the United States, and Spain. The United States map is a recent edition and one I’ve spent significant time staring at since I moved out here. Some startling facts: Alaska is nearly the size of the entire US, Illinois is bordered by five states, I haven’t seen the western half of the country.

You may remember that in the new year, I declared that I would see a new state every month. So how am I doing?

The truth is, I’m behind, albeit for two great reasons: 1) Nicaragua, 2) Spain. International travel trumps domestic jaunts, every time. So here in the 7th month of the year, I’m trying to schedule some catch up. What’s on the docket?

  • Indiana – namely, Indianapolis. I drove through on my way out, but who counts that? I’ve been doing some reading about this fair city and their marketers have just about convinced me I can spend a day or two there. It’s a two hour drive from Charleston, so it’s entirely do-able. The Indiana state fair is coming up in early August, and as my friend Michelle pointed out – the theme is Year of the Dairy Cow. That points to all of my favorite foods, so I’m there. I’ll dedicate the trip to my newly married blogger friend, Kaley, who has recently left Hoosierland for Spain.
  • Iowa – destination: Des Moines. The summer state fairs are really proving useful for me in this quest; in fact three of them in neighboring states all run the same time span: August 9-19. Des Moines is nearly 7 hours from Charleston, but combined with a trip to nearby Sadelia, Missouri* (home to MO State Fair), it’s much more manageable. How much fried food can I eat? Don’t test me. *Yes, I’ve already been to Missouri
  • Michigan lake side living has a tremendous appeal in the summer months. This is the longest haul of them all, and I am seriously doubting my time frame in which I’d like to accomplish this road trip. Another 7 hours north and east of Charleston to get me to Ann Arbor. Grand Rapids is closer, and perhaps more kindly situated on Lake Michigan. Also of note: there is a city nearby called HOLLAND. Nickname: the Tulip City.

Stay tuned for more tales as I try to survive the Midwest…

Stateside challenge 2012

New Year’s resolutions can be really annoying.

As a friend recently pointed out to me, we learned in business school that goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. You can’t say “I want to lose weight” without a clear direction – you’re only setting yourself up for failure. Whereas if you say “I want to lose 10 pounds in 3 months” you have set yourself an achievable goal, and you can measure your progress against said goal.

So while I don’t resolve to do anything in particular, I think I just might see a new state each month of this year. As a Northeast native, I’ve run up and down the Right Coast for most of my stateside life. The month of March is on hold due to international travel (Nicaragua), but here are the top candidates for Stateside 2012:

usa

courtesy of waistnotblog

1. New Orleans, Louisiana (January)
I started the year off right with a delicious 3 nights in the Crescent City. I tried so many new dishes, my tastebuds could hardly keep up. Except now that I know what a muffuletta is, I’m having a hard time forgetting about it.

2. Madison, Wisconsin (February)
With friends newly relocated to this beautiful place, it gives me an excuse to explore a city I’ve had my eye on for a while. It is also within road trippable distance (to me, 5 hours in a car with a friend is acceptable.)

3. Louisville, Kentucky (May)
Yes, I am bound for the Kentucky Derby this year, with glorious hat in hand. Holly and I decided to take advantage of our proximity to the world’s largest gathering of hats (horses? whatever) and plan a trip in early May.

4. Hawai’i (November)
A very tropical Thanksgiving is in the works.

5. Tennessee
With family nearby and Music City lying in wait, this is also a five hour drive from home.

6. Indiana
It’s two hours away. Really I’m not sure why else I should go there. The Formula One is back in the US, but in Austin TX. The Indy 500 does not interest me. And the NCAA tournament is everywhere but here in 2012. So … ?

7. Michigan
Again, why not? One thing I know for sure is that I will definitely not be going in the winter.

8. Rhode Island
Hoping to take a break in the Northeast this summer and rest my bones / see family in New Hampshire. This year a trip to nearby RI might be in order, along with a Pawtucket game.

yellowstone

courtesy of nationalgeographic.com

Up for Discussion:
9. Pacific Northwest: Seattle, Washington or Portland, Oregon?
Or .. both. I have a long standing date with the west, and this will be the year I take advantage of it. No, I’ve never been to California either but that feels like less of a mission. And how do I even begin in a long state like that with so much to offer?

10. The land of National Parks: Lots of options here.
Yellowstone (Montana), Grand Teton (Wyoming), Bryce Canyon / Zion (Utah). Hike, bike, jump off a mountain or go canyoning (my personal favorite). I just read a brilliant article in AAA Traveler by a self-defined city slicker who visited several of these beautiful parks. The photos alone make me itch for the mountains.

Have you traveled the continental US? Where did you go?

when bad things happen

Often times, when you cross a border or an ocean, you leave a life on the other side. It may be you have an intention to return to the place you left, or not. Maybe it is a vacation, a gap year, a career break, or just time away. But going forward you will undoubtedly have a “before” and an “after” regardless of the reasons for your departure.

That is what today is all about, not only in the United States, but the whole world over. The country in which I was born has made countless references  to life before 9-11 and after 9-11. And why not? We lost sons and daughters of our great nation, and sent others abroad as part of the same sacrifice. Two towers fell and a story raised up in the history of America, one whose plot unravels with every new day after 9-11.

One of the biggest questions today is Where were you (when the first tower was hit, when the plane hit the Pentagon, when the President declared war)? Personally, I was a freshman at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, on my way to an Accounting class on a beautiful fall day. The story of my country changed dramatically, but my life remained largely the same. I went to class, to volleyball practice, to parties. I was at home, away from home, safely ensconced in the United States.

Three years later, I was somewhere else. After my first year at Albright, I transferred to Moravian College for a double major in international business and Spanish, which would ultimately lead me abroad. So it was in 2004 when I was once again at home, away from home, nestled in my señora’s apartment in Granada, Spain. March 11, 2004 dawned in Andalucia to shouts of disbelief in my living room: a bomb had gone off in Madrid’s Atocha train station. My host family’s son was living in Madrid at the time and working for the Spanish government, and possibly caught in this terrorist attack.

I walked to school in a daze, and before long every student and professor had gathered around the inner patio. Someone asked for a moment of silence, and we stood staring at the tile, at a loss for words. Leaving class later that morning, I found out my host family’s son was safe in the capital, amidst the horror of the day. En route to the AIFS office, my phone rang and I quickly discovered that my own family had a horror of a different kind to face that day.

Several hours after the destruction in Madrid, some 3,000 miles across the pond, my grandmother passed away. It would turn out to be one of the longest and most painful weekends of my life. My adopted city took to the streets in a show of solidarity, headlines crying “No os olvidamos” (We will never forget you). My parents made the long drive to New England for my grandmother’s funeral. Spain identified a terrorist cell responsible for the bombings, and George W. Bush proclaimed, “Today, we are all Spaniards.” My family gathered together to remember a beautiful woman and I cried enough tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean between us.

Ultimately, I stayed in Spain. The weekend lengthened incredibly for my parents, as they returned home to euthanize our ailing dog, only to get back on the road for the funeral on Monday. After much deliberation with my parents, and my director, I crawled back into bed in my Spanish flat and grieved from far away. It turns out that bad things happen, even when you’re not home. Lots of people were away from New York in 2001, and away from Madrid in 2004, but the events there changed their lives all the same.

Know that while you travel, life continues somewhere else. Your before and after may be shaped by events outside of your control, and there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself. Should this stop you from traveling? Absolutely not. Bad things can happen in your own backyard, or halfway around the world. But good things can happen, too. So breathe deep and enjoy every minute, because … why not?

On being a tourist in my own country

When I first came home I was a lot of things. Tired, excited, impatient, hoping my luggage hadn’t burst open in transit. Happy to see my parents. Overjoyed to fall into my bed. Beside myself at the cereal selection in the cabinet. And then some point after all the emotional spikes leveled out and my body adjusted to the new time zone, I realized: I’m not in Spain any more.

One of the last cards I received before I departed was from my dear friend Holly, who will soon be off on her own wonderful adventures. She sent me a wonderful card from Etsy with a quote from W. Maugham: “I do not bring back from the journey quite the same self that I took.” This is easily the most obvious answer for what we know to be reverse culture shock. Even the Europeans know about it – as this article in Cafe Babel points to the ERASMUS program for the same reason, referring to it as “ex-Erasmus syndrome”.  A dramatic quote from the article underscores the most shocking realizations of coming home:

“El ex Erasmus no lo descubre hasta que no vuelve: su casa le parecerá cutre, su pueblo frío, la facultad horrible, la tele lúgubre, los amigos inútiles”. “The ex-Erasmus [student] doesn’t discover it until he doesn’t return: your house is eh, your town is eh, your school is eh, TV is eh and your friends are eh.” Thank you, Debbie Downer!

Ok, it’s not that bad. Reverse culture shock is not so much like hitting a brick wall but more of a soft bounce in a rubber room. It does have that touch of insanity to it, as is usually associated with rubber rooms. Sometimes, I have distinct moments where I am suddenly confused that I’m here, not there, despite the fact I am most definitely in North America. Equally startling are the times when I’m deep in conversation with a friend or colleague and still mentally reach for Spanish.

As a direct result of being away for the better part of a year, re-entry means a social life on fire. I have been out at a restaurant once if not twice every day this week. Friends are in flux throughout the city and now I’m back at work in a familiar place for the summer, adding hordes of colleagues to the welcome wagon. This? Is awesome. It’s exhausting both on my brain and my wallet (and my gas tank) but it is exactly what I was thinking of those days in Spain when I was craving home.

So what’s all the commotion about? Here are some of the (silly) things I’ve been coping with since my arrival:

I wanted a sandwich – a real, honest-to-god, piled high with preservative loaded meats and cheeses sandwich. You know what? I’m over it. I think I’ve had two. Where are the bakeries in this godforsaken town? I need a panaderia, stat. Pass me a baguette before I hit you over the head with this ridiculous loaf of sandwich bread.

I prefer warm milk in my coffee, not cold. Really this is wildly intelligent if you think about it .. your coffee stays hot a lot longer. Even when it is sub-par, American coffee.

I am having a really hard time finding things to do for free. Everything costs money! Which is something I don’t have a lot of these days. I made the mistake (twice) of walking into one of those fro-yo places where you pay by weight for your cup of yogurt and toppings and stared blankly at the $11 result for two cups of yogurt.

My parents live in the suburbs. We drive everywhere, out of necessity. There are three people in my house, and therefore = 3 cars. I missed my car with a fiery passion and although I am incredibly happy to be driving again .. I’d rather not. As Natalie is rediscovering in California – we are on the hurt for public transportation in a big way here in These United States.

There is volleyball, glorious volleyball. And Gatorade! (a non entity in Spain). Yes, I have to drive to my all of my matches, but after an 8 month dry spell, I’d drive across the country to reach the nearest volleyball court. And if I keep eating at all of these local restaurants, I am going to have to jack up my gym regimen.

The ENGLISH. Remember my violent reaction to the valley girls that were seemingly crawling the walls of the Cathedral and leaking out into the streets of Sevilla speaking their hideous, like, language? It would be appear that they all live here, in my town. I realize that I’m now back in the land where it is almost impossible not to eavesdrop because everyone is speaking your native language. It is extremely distracting!

The SPANISH. I need to sign up for a book group at Barnes and Noble or something. My mom tells me to speak Spanish to her and she promises to smile and nod. This is a valiant effort on her part, but I really do need someone to talk back to me in this precious language. My concern is not that I will lose my speaking abilities, just a preference to keep on speaking.

I’ve been home for 15 days and have not yet hooked up my cell phone. You know what? I don’t want to! At first it was a monetary decision, now its just the principal of the thing. My friends are annoyed, my parents are not a fan, but I think it’s spectacular. Just facebook me, I’ll get to you .. in due time 🙂