Friday, October 15, 2010

What Really Is "Proper" Gym Attire?

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you step off of your treadmill at the gym and two rows behind you spot some guy going at it full throttle on the elliptical machine wearing a black leather jacket zipped up to the neck!! What the hell?! Now I’ve never seen anyone having a workout in leather except for Bono in concert who is always sweating up a storm in his leather jacket and pants. But he’s a rock star! Maybe this guy is a Bono-wanna-be but come on, who wears a leather jacket to work out on an elliptical machine?
When I walked back to my treadmill to wipe it down after my workout, I noticed that the woman next to me was walking barefoot on the treadmill with her shoes neatly lined up next to the machine. Again, what is going on today?! I can see not wearing shoes if you are swimming or in a yoga class, but no shoes on a treadmill is rather odd. And yes, I have read the accounts of the new craze of running barefoot outside which supposedly helps prevent foot injuries. Ouch! I’ll stick to my sneakers both indoors and out thank you. But what is worse? Going barefoot on a nasty treadmill or wearing Crocs or flip flops while lifting weights? I’ve witnessed both at my gym. Hopefully flip-flop wearers have a good grip and don’t drop anything on a naked toe.
Since I’m being so judgmental today about what constitutes proper gym attire, I’ll just continue on with some of the odd workout wear choices I’ve noticed recently. As always, there are the gals in full make-up, dosed with perfume in their expensive coordinated workout outfits. At least they are wearing shoes, albeit costly ones. At the pool a couple of times a year some poor man who is not training for a triathlon will don a Speedo. Cringe! Then there are those folks (men and women alike) who should just not be wearing lycra.
Close to proper gym attire.
But more like mud run clothes
I always love the old men who wear their running shorts mid-thigh with their white tube socks pulled up to their knees. Occasionally (usually during a college break) you’ll get some young and incredibly shapely girl clad only in her sports bra and lycra running shorts. She’s usually paired with her beefy college boyfriend who keeps the gawkers at bay. Sometimes you can spot “youth” wearing their knit black skull caps and very loosely fitting shorts with their music cranked up louder than the already cranked up music blaring on the gym loudspeakers. 
One of my all-time favorites is an impressively well-endowed woman in her 30s who runs sans sports bra on the treadmill. She rolls up her tank top, tucks it up under her breasts so everyone is in full view of not only her flopping chest but her roll of stomach spilling out over the top of her shorts. Not a pretty sight, but I see her dressed like that every time so she must be quite comfortable with herself. Maybe that’s what it comes down to. What is your comfort level? Everyone’s is different but some people certainly are more out there than others. But I guess it doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you are working up a sweat.
Now most members of my fitness club do adhere to the unwritten proper dress code, including myself. But I do have to admit that I’m one of those skinny girls clad in a running top and shorts who is frantically lifting weights to add some muscle weight to my slight frame. Yes, I’ve set myself up for this one so fire away . . . 

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Day Trip on Fuji-san: Climbing Mt. Fuji

There is an old Japanese saying that goes something like this: “You are wise to climb Mt. Fuji once, but only fools climb it twice.” I thought I would be a fool to even attempt to climb a mountain as I didn’t think I had that gene in my body. But last year my sister Linda, who lives in Japan, threw out the crazy notion that we climb Mt. Fuji in August of 2010. I’m proud to say that my sister and I did successfully climb Mt. Fuji all in one day without major injuries. This can turn into a long and drawn-out tale as my family well knows. I’ll share with you the essence of the experience as you will have to climb Mt. Fuji yourself to see why a fool climbs twice. 
There are four trails up Mt. Fuji. We chose the Subashiri route up as it was supposedly the most scenic, least travelled, closest to our hotel, and has the quickest descent. We discovered the day after our climb that the Subashiri trail is the second most difficult trail up the mountain. (Probably good we didn’t know that during the climb!)
To acclimate to the altitude, we spent a sleepless night at a hotel near the trailhead. We rose early on August 3rd and my sister’s very gracious Japanese friend dropped us off at the 5th Station trailhead further up the mountain as a rainbow broke through the morning clouds. She wished us well and told us we were crazy to attempt this. She was sensibly going back to bed then spending the day shopping at an outlet mall at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
We spent 30 minutes getting used to the higher altitude (2000 m) before hitting the trail at 6 am. The air was already hot and heavy with humidity. Our packs were loaded down with 9 liters of water, food, rain gear, and warm clothes. We noticed right off that this was not like hiking in Colorado where the trails have switchbacks. This trail was straight up with virtually no switchbacks, and we were climbing on a pebbly/sandy and almost slippery surface. An hour into the climb we were very hot. So hot that we stopped to shed our pants and continued the climb in our shorts and a tank tops. All the other Japanese climbers were covered head to toe in long pants, fleeces, sun hats and gloves. Not us!
As we broke out of the tree line two hours into our climb, we reached the 6th Station and took a 30 minute rest to eat breakfast and hydrate. Each trail going up Mt. Fuji has rest “Stations” along the way for climbers. They all sell food and water at highly inflated prices. They have toilets (you also have to pay for these), but as we found out they aren’t always working at each station. You can buy a walking stick and at each station along the trail get a brand burned onto your stick which we did. Some of the stations have sleeping huts and hotels as many climbers like to spend the night, rise well before dawn, and make the summit of Fuji in time for the sunrise. We opted not to do this and am glad that we stayed at a hotel instead of on the mountain. The sleeping huts offered you a small mat, a tiny space wedged next to a stranger, and a ratty old blanket that probably hadn’t been washed in weeks and was used nightly by other hikers. No thanks!
Our map estimated that we could reach the summit in 4-6 hours. We cruised up the mountain to the next station in only 30 minutes, arriving by 9 am. By now we could see the remaining stations stacked up as well as the summit and were optimistic that we could reach the top by noon. 
The trail got even steeper as we started our climb to the 7th station. Along the trail we passed a few little trailside alters which serve as a grim reminder that people do die along this trail. The weather can deteriorate very quick but so far we are blessed with a sunny day with a few clouds flitting over us as we ascend. Just before we reach the 7th station, altitude sickness hit me. Dizziness, vertigo, a massive headache. We stop to rest along the trail and slow down our breakneck pace. We are now at 3090 meters. 
My sister and I leave the 7th Station at 10:50 am for the most difficult climb up to the top. The air is very thin, the trail is over a 30° angle straight up with no vegetation, only lava rock, and we are literally taking baby steps up the trail. But it’s not just us creeping up the mountain, everyone is. Mt. Fuji is the great equalizer for all of the climbers—the little old Japanese ladies, the Marines from Camp Fuji, the American Navy couple in their 20s, a 10-year old boy and his parents, and two young-at-heart Wisconsinites. The only person we found unfazed by the altitude was a college student from Austria who was bounding up Fuji like a mountain goat.
We drank at least half of our water supply before we reached the top which was good except that the toilets at all of the stations past the 7th were broken. By the time we reached yet another broken toilet at the 8.5 Station (at 3500m) I was about dying. With my sister standing guard, I found an already damp spot along a rocky ledge and left my mark upon Mt. Fuji. Thank goodness I didn’t wait for the 9th Station as it was crushed when we arrived around 2 pm. Completely buried under piles of volcanic boulders. We stopped for a very brief rest and forced ourselves to eat and drink water. 
This was the most difficult part of the climb for me as it was very hot in the direct sun, difficult to breathe, and my legs felt SO very heavy and shaky. Our slow pace limited us to climbing up at a rate of only 100 meters in 30 minutes. What kept me going was seeing the Tori gate marking the top of the mountain and my sister urging me onward.
Finally, we reached the top of Mt. Fuji at 2:48 pm!!! We grasped each other hands and shouted some Japanese phrase of “WE DID  IT!” as our feet touched the top stone step. We were exhausted but elated at reaching the summit in 8.5 hours of climbing. And what did we find at the top of Mt. Fuji? A noodle shop, a shrine, lots of trinket shops (I bought a little flag for my walking stick and Lin bought some bells for hers), a post office, a super smelly and expensive toilet, and the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. 
At this point, Linda had to call her friend who was picking us up at the bottom of the trail to tell her we were running a few hours late. Amazingly her phone worked! We stopped to eat and rest, use the disgusting toilet, and take a glance into the crater on top of Fuji. Only a little rope separated us from a very long fall into the center of the volcano. Either safety standards are a bit lax in Japan or the Japanese assume that people aren’t stupid enough to venture dangerously close to the edge.
We took a few moments to savor the deafening silence and beauty of being at the top of Japan. It was so beautiful in a desolate and barren way. Very few people were on top of the mountain. Initially we planned to walk a trail that goes around the crater (about an hour hike) but at this point it was 3:45 pm, and we had no idea how long it would take us to get back down. The map said 2-3 hours, but this was the same map that said 4-6 hours to climb up, not over 8 hours. All we knew was that the sun would set around 6:30 pm, and we didn’t have any flashlights with us. Time to get off the mountain!
We cut ahead of a large group of older Japanese hikers, wondering how these people in their 60s and 70s even made it up Fuji. A sign showed our Subashiri trail taking 1 hour and 45 minutes to descend as opposed to 4 hours and 10 minutes on the Yoshida trail. Hmmm, why was our trail so much faster? 

It was a spectacular slide down to the 8th Station where the trail split and our Subashiri trail cut straight down a very steep grade. At 4:45 pm we started our ski/scoot down a  Fuji lava flow that dropped us 3000 feet in just over an hour. We were cruising down Mt. Fuji, using our boots as skis and the sandy, rocky volcanic surface as snow. We had to watch out for embedded boulders, and at one point Linda was doing moguls and even caught air! At some points, it was so steep and I got going so fast I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I’m surprised our descent off of Mt. Fuji was legal as it was so dangerous. Maybe our accelerated rate of speed made it even more dangerous! 
One crazy Japanese kid was literally running down the mountain while others were slowly picking their way down and holding onto a thin rope for balance. Not the American girls from Wisconsin, we passed everyone and even caught up with groups far below us. I think our speed was mainly due to being overly anxious to get off of Mt. Fuji before sunset. And it didn’t help when Linda mentioned that this would be the worst possible place to be if even a minor earthquake hit!
All of this was very fun for say the first 45 minutes. Then we realized that we had to keep doing this for even longer once we could see the parking lot way off in the distance. Our toes were starting to hurt. Knees were popping and hips were sore from this strange and rapid descent. Our trail did not intersect with any of the rest stations on the way up and there were no markers showing how far we had come or how far it was to the 5th Station trailhead. 
Our hopes were dashed around 5:45 pm when we finally reached the bottom of the lava slide and the 5th Station, not the 5th Station TRAILHEAD where we had started. It was now starting to get dark and our bodies were feeling the efforts of climbing up and down Fuji. The last 40 minutes of the trail was a boulder descent through the woods with lots of massive tree roots to navigate. 
Finally we saw the Shinto shrine at the base of the trail, and we knew that we were very close to the end. We hugged each other as we passed thru the gates to the 5th Station trailhead. It was now 6:20 pm. Our legs felt like rubber bands, and a lady at the end of the trail handed us cups of very smelly and salty tea (we think it was to prevent seizures). We headed back to the car, down the mountain, and into a Japanese Denny’s Restaurant for our post-Fuji feast! What an unforgettable day and an incredible experience that I was lucky enough to share with my sister. Would I climb it again?  Probably not but my sister and I will be talking about our Mt. Fuji climb when we are well into our 90s!
My workout watch gave us a few stats about our climb:
^    8 hours, 46 minutes and 16 seconds to reach the top. We started at 2000 meters and climbed up to 3776 meters.
^    6311 calories burned on the ascent. A total of 9113 calories burned the entire day.
^    230 beats/minute. My highest heart rate on the ascent.
^    Descended Mt. Fuji in 2 hours and 29 minutes. We slid/skied down about 3000 ft. in 1 hour at a rate of 1.5 feet/second!
^    Total time on the mountain, including rests and time at the summit, 12 hours, 20 minutes, and 25 seconds.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

DELTA = Doesn't Ever Leave the Airport

The plane that never left the ground.
This was the new meaning a fellow passenger gave to DELTA as we waited and waited at Gate F8 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Delta now holds the distinction of being my LEAST favorite airline and one I'll try to avoid at all costs in the future. Now I'm sure that many of you have had your own flight delay horror stories but see how yours compares with my recent experience with Delta Airlines out of Minneapolis. (Being a writer I always travel with a notebook so as events unfolded I jotted down the times and details of our two days stuck in the Minneapolis airport.)

I was flying from Minneapolis to Orlando with my three kids and my sister-in-law to meet up with my husband and two other families for our long-awaited 5-day vacation to Walt Disney World.
June 17, 2010
1 am: Accidentally discovered that our original flight to Orlando was cancelled (without any notification from Delta) and new flight was leaving two hours later at 9 am.
7 am: En route to the airport, I received a message that Flight 2586 was delayed to 10 am
9 am: Arrived at gate to discover that Flight 2586 delayed to 11 am. No plane in sight.
11:15 am: All passengers moved to a different gate at other end of airport. Departure time now 12 pm but still no airplane at the gate.
12 pm: Departure time changed to 1 pm due to a “mechanical problem.” Passengers getting a bit restless and agitated. We were told that the part (a battery) had arrived on another flight and was going to be tested. They were waiting for a crew to test the battery. THIS WAS THE FIRST OF MANY DELTA LIES! (The truth came out later that night that the new part arrived at 8:30 am. The driver lost the part/battery in transit. Both driver and part were missing for 3.5 hours. At noon, the part arrives at the hanger. Still a mystery what the driver was doing with the part for all those hours.)
1 pm: Passes. 2 pm passes.
3 pm: Crew supposedly arrives to test the part. Still no airplane at gate.
4 pm: The natives are getting restless and asking for another plane . . . Gate agents inform us that problem fixed. Plane arrives and we board the plane. Hurrah! So we think . . . 
5:30 pm: Passengers sat on the plane for over an hour on a 90°+ day with sporadic air conditioning and lights. Told there was still a “mechanical” problem they were trying to fix. The pilot Delta put on this plane was over his legal limit for flying hours. Isn’t that somewhat illegal??
5:45 pm: We were given the option to deplane and stay in gate area. 
Waiting . . .
6 pm: It’s announced that a computer was broken and must be replaced. The original flight was not cancelled so I could not rebook us without paying a steep penalty and the cost of 5 new tickets otherwise I would have gotten us out at that time. Fellow passengers are now screaming at the ticket agents, all of my kids are crying, and the airport is now under a Tornado Watch and Severe Thunderstorm Warning with the Western sky turning black. Sort of tops off our already horrible day.
7 pm: Plane now deemed fixed and we are back on board by 7:15 pm, strapped in and ready to go.
7:30 pm: The flight crew on the plane announces that the plane has no pilot to fly the plane. 
8 pm: Flight 2923 is finally cancelled while we are sitting on the plane. There is no other pilot available anywhere and no other planes available for the night. The flight supervisor put 150 passengers on a plane knowing that no pilots were available to fly the plane! If the passengers had knives, there would have been a mutiny on that plane.
10:30 pm: At hotel in Edina, Minnesota for the night without our luggage. We were given hotel and food vouchers and told to come back for a 7 am flight to Orlando the next morning. Yes, this unfortunate sage continues . . .
June 18, 2010
4:15 am: Get the kids up. My youngest is so tired that he hops into the shower wearing his boxer shorts. He ends up going “commando” until we arrive in Orlando. We put on our dirty clothes from the previous day and board a shuttle bound for the airport to start all over again.
6 am: Arrive at our gate for Flight 9856. The same airplane as the previous day is at the end of the gate. We spot a pilot and flight crew. Fellow passengers are hopeful.
7:45 am: Board the plane and push back from the gate. Cheers from the crowded plane! Then we sit and wait for nearly an hour without a word from the pilot or flight crew. I have a sinking feeling this is not going to be good. The pilot finally musters up the courage to announce that the plane has THE SAME COMPUTER PROBLEM AS YESTERDAY and wasn’t ever fixed. He asks us to stay on the plane while mechanics attempt to fix it for a SIXTH TIME!!! By this point, all hell breaks loose on the plane. Children and some adults are crying, people are screaming and frantically pushing their call buttons, people (including myself) are on their cell phones with Delta getting the run around. I’m thinking they need a computer expert and not a mechanic to fix this problem. Without uttering a word across the aisle, my sister-in-law and I (through our years of honed non-verbal messages) decide that there is NO WAY we want to fly on this broken plane, convinced it will plummet back to earth once airborne. This is the last straw, and we are getting off this plane and onto another flight to Orlando.
8:15 am: Asked to deplane from this heap for a 3rd time! As we enter back to the gate area, my son pulls me to the floor, plops into my lap, and proceeds to cry and scream (at the top of his lungs) how much he HATES DELTA. He manages to grab a sympathetic nod from once of the police officers in riot gear who has been called in to manage my fellow passengers and I. We are not happy campers! In addition to all of the crying children who have been missing out on 2 days at Disney World, an entire volleyball team has missed out on a national tournament, a diabetic woman is completely out of her medicine and is threatening the flight crew with her cane, people are hurling insults and threats at the lone Delta supervisor (who probably doesn’t understand because he really doesn’t speak English all that well), and a man has missed the final few hours with his dying father who passed away before Delta would allow him to rebook his flight. We got to pay Delta for this pleasure!
8:45 am: Mechanics still trying to fix the doomed plane. A 10 am departure is announced. Police are still on hand for the mob scene unfolding at our gate. Local TV crews are on their way to cover the chaos. (See attached clip.)
9 am: Luckily, I am still up at the ticket counter with an upset child when it is announced that a few seats remain on a flight through Charlotte to Orlando. Without hesitation, I rebook us and we are outta there! 
Exhausted but finally in Florida
5:15 pm: We and all our luggage arrive in Orlando nearly 36 hours after our airport ordeal started. Here’s how it all ended, once the TV stations arrived at the gate, Delta sent a new plane for Flight 9856. It arrived safely in Orlando. The broken plane hopefully has been retired to the scrap heap. 
There was no excuse for the way Delta airlines treated it’s passengers bound for Orlando. Minneapolis is a Delta hub. How could Delta not have another plane available? We were there long enough to have a plane flown in from anywhere in the US or even Europe. As for the broken plane, Delta fixes it’s plane in Minneapolis. I think they knowingly stuck us with an inoperable plane. 
I apologize for the long account but I feel better having told it. I have spent far too many hours on the phone and computer with Delta lodging complaints and trying to get reimbursed for missed Disney days and our flights. So now I’m going public and telling everyone I know how horrible Delta Airlines is. I’m avoiding flying Delta in the future and urge you to do the same.
In the end, we finally made it to Disney World but missed out on two of our days. We packed all of the Parks into our remaining days and had an amazing time with our friends and staying in the Treehouses at Disney. I’m pleased to say that I didn’t even miss out on any of the roller coasters and my new favorite is the “Tower of Terror!”
Also, if you have any Delta horror stories to share, please add a comment for me. I’ve already heard 3 new stories in the past week. Happy travels!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mother's Day: Capturing Memories

While spending an absurd amount of time searching for a decent picture of myself to post with this article, I came to a couple of realizations. First, I have at least a dozen huge photo albums dating from 1996 to 2006 in which there are minimal pictures of me. Tons of kid pictures. Plenty of shots of the grandparents with tiny babies in their arms. Super cute shots of the kids with their aunts and uncles. Each year chronicled with Dad and three kids smiling happily on Easter, Christmas, or at the 4th of July. One main person is missing . . . Mom! This leads me to believe that I must have taken most all of these pictures or I was hiding out somewhere. 
Second, the pictures I did find of myself show me as a true Mom in action. I’m sure you know the pictures. For the photos of the darling baby years, Mom is looking half-asleep, dressed in mismatched clothing (if completely dressed at all) with a half-smile and haggard look on her face. I’m wearing a spit-cloth tossed casually over my shoulder awaiting that next burp. My hair isn’t brushed, I can tell I haven’t showered in a couple of days, and I’m definitely carrying around too many of those extra post-pregnancy pounds.
Fast forward a year. Now the first baby is toddling around while I’m also toddling around heavily pregnant with baby number two. At this point I think I was probably avoiding the camera altogether, hence the lack of pictures. Mom still looks exhausted but smiling happily for the camera with her eyes closed.
A few years later that camera captures me as a blur of motion as I chase after two very active kids. In the few pictures I could find, I’m usually wearing my uniform of jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers pushing a stroller around The Mall in Washington, DC, in front of the panda cage with my monkeys at the National Zoo, or at a backyard BBQ wearing the children’s BBQ all over my shirt. My favorite pictures of me from this era of my life are those of me asleep in the sun on boats. (No, not lounging in the sun in my bathing suit. I wish!) These shots are of me stealing a quick nap while someone else watched the kids who are pictured wildly running around the boat.
Then that third bundle of joy finally arrives. Now looking back on these pictures of a blob-like me after four months on bed-rest, I’m wondering why I ever let anyone take a picture of me in that state and why I bothered to put these pictures in an album instead of destroying them completely! That baby-to-preschooler picture cycle starts up again with a few more snapshots of me looking a bit more relaxed, cleaner, and much fitter as that third baby grows up. 
But now I’ve run out of picture albums because all of those kid pictures are now housed on my hard-drive, waiting to be printed and placed in an album. Years worth of pictures of kids with their friends, playing sports, and occasionally with their Mom. 
This Mother’s Day, do Mom a favor. Take that camera away from her and put Mom in front of the lens instead of behind it. Take pictures of your beautiful mothers, print off the best pictures, and frame them for her.  Lavish Mom with love not only on this Mother’s Day but every day. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Puerto Rican Escape

If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, you are missing out! A short plane ride from Miami lands you in the lush tropical US territory of Puerto Rico. But this was no ordinary vacation to Puerto Rico. This involved months of planning and coordinating travel plans with 3 other couples all of whom are my neighbors . . . I must admit that I hoped that we all would get along as well on vacation as we did back home on the cul de sac. I didn’t need to worry about that as everyone got along fabulously! Here are a few of our highlights and thoughts:
Diversity. Puerto Rico is fabulous for people watching as you seem to get all sorts of different people on the streets and beaches given the heavy cruise ship and casino traffic. Stiletto heels and mini-skirts abound!
Amazing food. Somehow each meal was better than the one before. Some of our favorites in and around Old San Juan include: Marmalade, DragonFly, The Parrot Club, Solera, and Buddha Thai.
The beaches. The beaches were gorgeous regardless of if the sun was out or not. When you live in Minnesota and it has been snowing since October, a Puerto Rican beach takes on a touch of heaven.
The mojitos. We made it our mission to sample a mojito at nearly every establishment we visited on our stay. Our favorite mojitos were at the Nono Bar in Old San Juan.

Flirty security agents at the San Juan Airport. Why aren’t the passenger screeners like this back in the States? But then, most everyone down here seemed quite happy and content.

I certainly hope to return to Puerto Rico someday to indulge in the other parts of this beautiful island.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thoughts From My Window Seat

Why is it that I always feel so calm and at peace with myself and the world when I’m strapped into my seat on an airplane speeding down the runway at take-off? Maybe it is because I’m temporarily not in charge of getting from Point A to Point B. I’m along for the ride.
Now some of my friends and family could not ever really relate to this feeling of elation upon becoming airborne given an innate fear of flying. Any fear I might have is quickly replaced by freedom. Freedom, definitely. That freedom feeling is much strong when flying solo, like tonight. I checked my bag and headed to the security line, feeling a bit naked without three kids and their stuff in tow. I felt like I’ve left something behind. I did. Responsibility for anyone but myself. As a mother of three, this was a rare moment. As much as I love my children and spending time with them, there is nothing quite like going on a pleasure trip with the children in good hands at home.
For some reason, my plane is flying incredibly low tonight. At first, I was half expecting to turn around given our proximity to the earth. But here we remain. Low. I know that we are low because all of the little planes are coming down in altitude from the heavens above my plane to land at the airports below. I can make out street lights, traffic, and the occasional McDonalds golden arches. On this perfectly clear night, never before have the lights of Cedar Rapids, St. Louis, and all of the places in between looked so beautiful. All of the cities and little towns lie glittering below my feet. The bright stars in the sky replace the extinguished city lights as we fly out over the pitch black darkness of the Gulf of Mexico.  Until Tampa Bay and Sanibel Island shimmer in the distance below, spread out like jewels in the inky dark of a March night.
Perhaps flying solo lends a certain calmness to the crazy life of a mother. Maybe The Killers blasting on my iPod helps as well. There is no one but a stranger beside me, and she certainly won’t demand my iPod to watch Toy Story. Regardless, as I gaze out of my window over the wing, I’ve found a reassuring, if temporary, peace.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You Go Google!

I applaud Google for taking a stand against censorship and intellectual property rights in China in light of the recent security breach at Google and 34 other Silicon Valley companies. Censorship by the Chinese government and a cyberattack on the g-mail accounts of human rights activists pushed Google to act. Personally, as an American citizen, I never really thought much about censorship and security on-line when I logged into Google. I had no idea that the Chinese government had placed restrictions on content that could be pulled up on Google’s search engines at its Chinese mainland site: Now I’m not so naive.
However, that has all changed now as—at the time of this writing—Google is operating freely and without any restriction on content in China. Within minutes of the information firewall imposed by the Chinese government going down, citizens of China were able to download previously hidden information and images on Tibet and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. How long will this freedom of information last in China? Not long I predict. 
In addition to stopping censorship on its search engines, Google is considering pulling out of China completely.  Will Google, and other American companies with Chinese interests, continue to sit back and let Communist China dictate restrictions on how an American company should operate? Doesn’t America stand for Freedom? That should apply to Internet freedom as well. 
I am hoping that change is possible and the lure of revenue will not draw Google back in. Censorship and cyberattacks are just plain wrong. Unfortunately, the Chinese citizens are the losers in this game. If Google stays the course and leaves China, the current free and open Google search engines vanish. If Google backs down and continues to censor information, the Chinese government will gain yet another victory and place further restrictions and limits on Internet searches in mainland China.
Google is blazing a path here. Western companies operating in China have long bent their own morals and rules to accommodate those of Communist China. Google stood up and said “NO!” 
There are some who will say it’s okay to change the operating rules for the Chinese government, and we should just work out some sort of a deal with China. This has undoubtably been going on for a long time already. But is it really possible to negotiate with an unyielding Communist government? Just ask those who witnessed, died in, or survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which the Chinese government has continuously attempted to cover up. 
Freedom of information or censorship? Which would you choose?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Japanese Favorites

Yes, I realize this has nothing to do with surviving suburbia. It falls under escaping suburbia. My recent, and really quite unexpected, travels to Japan over the past few years have yielded a few favorite encounters from a culture I never thought I’d explore and experience. Here is my short list of discoveries:
  •  Zen gardens and Shinto shrines in the middle of Tokyo.
  •  Old ladies in kimonos with their hair dyed pink, purple, or blue tottering around on their wedges.
  •  The heated and musical Japanese toilets.
  •  Little bows.
  •  Eating the closest duplication of my Grandmother’s homemade raised sugar doughnuts at the New Otani Hotel. How did they get her recipe?
  •  Japanese maples dripping leaves into ponds filled with Koi.
  •  The beauty and serenity of Kyoto.
  •  The crazy music and bells and whistles that play in the subways when the doors of a train are closing.
  •  Vending machines selling cans of hot coffee and tea on all of the street corners.
  •  Feeling like a blonde goddess in high heels and a bright pink coat as I towered over the masses of Japanese clad in neutral black and khaki.
  •  Spotting Mt. Fuji from my hotel window on the morning of my departure from Japan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tips For Air Travel with Kids

What do you do when faced with an 11 hour flight to the other side of the world? This is daunting enough for an adult but add a couple of kids into the mix and things get a bit chaotic. Having recently completed such a trip across the Pacific from Minnesota to Japan with my sister and her two small children, I can say that we all survived very well. But advance planning is key!
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years traveling with my kids as well as on my most recent trip with my young niece and nephew:
  •  Arrive extra early at the airport. This is especially true in light of the attempted bombing of that Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day. Expect longer than usual lines and delays going through security.
  •  Find some good (and somewhat healthy) kid food before you board the plane. I’ve found it’s always best to feed the kids before getting on the plane. The kids meals on flights are sometimes nasty and they will usually just pick at an adult meal. If McDonalds is your only choice, do it.
  •  Let them run around. Probably a no-brainer bit of advice. Let them ride the escalators, run around a corner of the gate area, climb the stairs. Anything to get that energy out. A quick visit to the restroom is also a good distraction.
  •  Bring another change of clothing. Not only in case your luggage gets lost. My kids would end up soiling themselves before we even boarded the plane. Packing  a clean and dry outfit beats sitting in soggy pants all the way to Toronto.
  •  Distract them. Once on board and into their seats, pull out something for them to do. Depending on their age of course. To help their ears during take-off: For little ones, suckers or Life-Savers candies work great for take-off. Bottles or nukies for the babies. My rule of thumb is once you are up in the air, distract them until they fall asleep, which they usually will. iPods and portable DVD players are necessary devices, especially for those long international flights.
  •  Have extra distractions once those batteries die out. It never fails. 7 or 8 hours into a flight the charge dies on the iPod and computer. No more music or movies. Now what? This happened on my last trip. My niece and I toured the plane many times. We delved into the many snacks that we had brought along. We pulled out the sticker books and as a last resort, we read the same three Sesame Street books continuously for an hour. Elmo never bores a 14-month old! Thank goodness sleep prevailed again and saved me from another hour of Elmo!
  •  Bribery. I’m totally guilty of this tactic. If all else fails . . . a special treat once they get onto the ground is always enticing and may even stop the whining and fit-throwing!

I can say we all arrived in Japan with minimal fussing and mess. No complaints, only compliments from our fellow passengers. Good luck on your next journey with your gang!
Stretching out after her flight from Tokyo