“Well, I’m from Utica and I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase ‘steamed hams’ before.” “Oh not in Utica, no! It’s more of an Albany expression.”

While Jason was off doing his groomsman duties over the course of the couple of days we were in Albany, I decided to take take the opportunity to wander around and see what there was to see. More than once I found myself thinking “Dude, where is everybody?” It’s not that peculiar that a state capitol is no longer a center of commerce, but aside from a few cars on the road and the occasional other pedestrian, it felt absolutely deserted. I’ve heard that when school is in session, it’s more lively, but I can’t speak to that: all I know is that when our cab arrived at midnight and everything was closed, it made me feel like I was in a suburb, not a city.

In 2013, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine determined Albany was the 7th most unfriendly city in the country (the 13th most unfriendly in the world!). Aside from an unpleasant encounter with a cab driver (which was admittedly just as much my fault as his), I have to say that I just don’t see it. Everyone that I spoke with was perfectly nice, and I didn’t solely interact with people in hospitality–so either the title shook the natives to their core and they’ve made a strong effort to change how they’re perceived, or the list is mostly a bullshit excuse to put up a slide show for ad revenue. I’m thinking the latter is more likely. Continue reading

Spotted on the Roadside: Nipper the Giant Dog in Albany, NY

Unquestionably the cutest part of the Albany skyline, Nipper the RCA dog is perched on what used to be the tallest building in Albany, thus requiring him to have an aircraft beacon attached to his ear (now a light fixture). Weighing in at four tons, Nipper looms over the street, listening for the sound of his master’s voice. Let’s hope an ionic disturbance doesn’t bring him to life, though: the real Nipper was named after his tendency to nip the backs of visitors’ legs.

Spotted on Broadway in Albany, NY.

Spotted on the Roadside: You Mean Like That Bozo, Bonko the Clown?

Late for the Interurban

JP Patches Statue

JP Patches Detail

Gertrude Statue

JP Patches was a beloved clown who hosted a local Seattle television show for children for  over twenty years. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I spent my mornings with Bozo the Clown instead, so I don’t really have a point of reference for JP Patches, save that he was said to be the inspiration for Krusty the Clown. Any clown even remotely associated with Krusty is OK in my book. Except Gertrude. I don’t know if she was as terrifying in the show as she is on this statue, but holy nightmare fuel!

Spotted on 34th St in Seattle, WA.

Nom or Vom: Dorito or Dorit-nooooooo?

doritos-loaded-nom-or-vom

America, your cries to get a stomachache while you gas up have been heard and answered: now you can get fried cheese that’s been breaded in doritos crumbs. This may be part of the grand doritos plan to get a foot in every franchise that people only eat at when they have two dollars and deep-seated self-loathing, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I don’t feel even remotely hungry looking at that orange plastic molten cheese substitute, and I am generally the sort of person who gets hungry just thinking about pictures of cheese.

Pros: pleasing triangular shape, like a dorito-y grilled cheese, plenty of cheese, who doesn’t like melted cheese?

Cons: 7-11 doesn’t so much sell “food” as it sells “disappointment”, you know that it’s not cheese inside but cheez, this is going to be exactly like that time you thought it would be awesome to make nachos with doritos and subsequently got heartburn so bad that you thought you were dying

Would you eat Doritos Loaded?

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The Mill Creek Festival

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The Mill Creek Festival is held just a few miles from my house, so Jason and I decided to walk there and see what there was to see. And there was plenty to see and do– live music, entertainment, crafts vendors, food vendors, play areas, and even a haunted house!

In general, I’m mostly uninterested in buying stuff from festival vendors. I’m also the sort of person who feels the weight of the craftsperson’s eyes when I’m looking at their wares and subsequently feels guilty for not buying anything, so I really cannot speak to the variety or quality of any of that. I can tell you that I saw lamps made out of liquor bottles out of the corner of my eye that made me grimace.

The food court could have stood for some more variety–there were three gyro stands right next to one another, and kind of shockingly overpriced at that. We ordered at one of them where prices weren’t posted, and if I had known that they were $10 apiece, I would have gone to Kafe Neo instead and had one made to order instead of the sort-of mediocre one I ended up eating. The malasadas from Hawaii’s Donut were awesome, though–what’s not to love about warm fried dough rolled in sugar?

The very best part about the Mill Creek Festival is that it’s dog-friendly. Dogs aren’t just welcome, they have an entire area devoted to products for dogs…even a stage area where various dog groups put on demonstrations of their skills. I am such a dog person that seeing one dog makes me happy, and there were so many wiggly wagglers and tummies in need of rubs that I thought I might explode. My favorite dog was an eensy weensy puppy named Taro who was dedicated to taste-testing a pebble on the ground in front of him. My second favorite was a corgi who wanted ALL the tummy rubs. When we got home, Napoleon had a fit: not only did we clearly eat food that we didn’t share, but we also cheated on him with fifty other dogs. It’s true. And I’d do it again.

Spotted on the Roadside: Vac Shop in Seattle, WA

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What to do with vacuums you just can’t fix? Turn them into vacuum monsters and station them outside to advertise your business, of course! True story: I had a nightmare about this place the day after visiting. Whether it was brought on by mild heat exhaustion due to a long, hot day in a car that doesn’t have air conditioning or my general aversion to household chores, I couldn’t say, but the fact remains that a dream about being surrounded, carried off, and devoured by vacuum monsters next to a lake of blood from their other victims is an unsettling association to make with vacuum repairs.

Spotted at 402 S Lucille St in Seattle, WA.

Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, WA

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The Olympic Sculpture Park is a free park along Seattle’s Elliot Bay waterfront, and was created with the aim of making a green space for art that could also accommodate a salmon habitat and native plants. The park is open half an hour past sunset, which makes it especially enjoyable in the PNW’s glorious summers: we have sunsets as late as 9pm! Visiting the park just before sunset allows you to browse the sculptures in the prettiest light, and you can also continue down Alaskan Way as you leave and watch the waterfront come alive in the night as twinkling ferries glide to and fro and the Great Wheel beckons you to come play.

Makin Stuff: A Harry Potter Moving Picture Frame

A while back, I participated in the Harry Potter gift exchange on reddit. I’d participated in a few other gift exchanges previously, and they were all pretty much bummers in that I’d put a lot of time and effort into picking out what I thought would be a great gift only to have the giftee not even bother to acknowledge that they’d received it. However, I felt strongly that the Harry Potter exchange would be different, more magical, both because of the subject matter and because this time I had a plan in place for what I wanted to give. Something I’d been thinking about making ever since my trip to the Islands of Adventure. Something that you couldn’t buy anywhere. No, not friendship.  A picture frame that made it look like you were on the cover of the Daily Prophet. Just in case you’d like one, here’s how I made it!

What you’ll need:

  • A digital photo frame that supports video files, with a total width of less than 8.5 inches. I used the Micca M707Z.
  • An SD card. You won’t need a huge one unless you plan to cycle through a number of videos instead of just one.
  • Basic video editing software
  • Plywood, enough for an 8.5×11 sheet plus a few more inches for the other frame components
  • paint or wood stain
  • wood glue
  • double sided tape or mod podge or your preferred adhesive
  • x-acto knife
  • basic woodcutting tools (I used a Rockwell multi-material cutting saw)
  • photo editing software
  • printer
  • a few sheets of paper

 

All of your measurements will be based around the dimensions of your digital photo frame, so if you’ve ordered it online, you should wait until you have it in hand to get started. For example, the photo frame I bought advertises that it has a 7 inch wide screen, when in reality, it’s just over 6 inches. That makes a big difference! Once you have your screen measurements in hand, you can proceed.

I did the newspaper portion of the project first. I used photoshop, but you can use any photo editing software you have. I’m sure if you were tenacious enough, you could lay everything out in Word! Choose any number of the free Harry Potter-inspired fonts on fontspace, and plot out your “articles” in a manner that’s pleasing to you. They can be literally about anything you want: a wizard fashion show, a holiday, a special occasion, anything. It will look more like the movie newspaper if you mix fonts and include snippets of multiple stories rather than just one, but it’s really up to you. The only thing you need to work around is a rectangle of blank space exactly the size of your digital frame’s screen dimensions somewhere on the page. This rectangle also shouldn’t butt up to any of the edges: leave enough room for the frame part of your digital frame to hide so it’s not sticking out anywhere.

daily-prophet

Print out a copy to make sure you’re happy with it. Cut out the blank area with an x-acto knife and use this printout as a template with which to trace onto your plywood. Once all of your lines are traced, you can start making your cuts. When you’re finished, you should have an 8.5×11 piece of wood with a hole the size of your screen cut into it. Now while you CAN do all of the woodcutting with a dremel, here’s why I don’t recommend it:

dremel-vs-proper-tool

That one on the left? I used a Dremel and it took about a year to cut just to get it to that level of shittiness. Once I broke down and bought a proper tool, I cranked out the considerably less shitty one on the right in less than five minutes. You’re also less likely to be injured when using a tool in the way it’s intended instead of forcing a diamond bit through a sheet of plywood like I did. As with all power tools, use proper safety equipment, and read all instruction manuals before operating any tool you’re unfamiliar with!

At this point, you can paint or stain the back and sides, or you can wait until you have all of the wood components completed. It’s your choice! You don’t even have to do anything to the wood if you don’t want, but I feel like painting or staining it black allows the back and sides to recede so the focus is on the front, where it should be.

Now, you could just glue your digital photo frame to the back of this piece of wood and be almost done (and if you’d rather do that, you should definitely paint/stain first), but I wanted to make the photo frame removable for a couple of reasons: (1) so if it ever dies, it can be replaced and (2) if I decide I don’t want something Harry Potter related on display in my house anymore, I can always slide out the digital frame and use it by itself.

Here’s where my instructions get a bit dodgy if you’re using a different make/model of digital frame. My frame’s power cord and SD slots are all on one side–the left side, if you’re looking at the back. Thus, I wanted to keep that side open for easy access to the SD card. On the right side, however, I cut a small strip of wood (5.5″ long, .5″ wide) to serve as a stopper, so the digital frame has something to butt up against and keep it from sliding out of the side. I then measured the depth of the digital frame and cut two pieces of wood that would be glued together to give the digital frame a place to sit and would also hold it in place. My pieces were both 6″ long and 1.25″wide. At its deepest, my frame is just over an inch thick. My plywood was .25″ thick. By gluing the plywood together in an L shape, I was able to create a support that was just a hair over an inch think which enables me to seat the digital frame in snugly, which means it doesn’t need any support on the top of the frame to hold it in place.  Depending on the depth of your frame, yours may be different.  Use wood glue to glue the narrow strip of wood to the back side of your 8.5″x11″ piece of wood, on the opposite side of wherever your SD card inserts. Glue your two supporting pieces of wood into an L shape. Let dry.

gluing-supportsThere is literally no reason for the clamp to be in this picture. I didn’t use a clamp. Ignore the clamp, is what I’m saying.

Once your L shape has dried, use more wood glue to glue it in place on the back of your large sheet of wood. Let dry.

back-side-support-wood

Once all of the wood glue on the back of your frame has completely dried, try sliding in your digital frame. It should fit snugly. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to figure out what went wrong–this may involve swearing. Once it does fit snugly, cut one more piece of wood to serve as your stand. Mine’s 2.25″ wide by 5.25″ long–yours may be different. Just cut something long enough that when propped at an angle, it will be able to keep the frame upright of its own accord. Once you’ve got that piece, glue it liberally into place and let it dry.

gluing-the-stand

If you haven’t painted or stained the back and all of the various bits of wood, now is the time to do so. Let dry completely. If you used stain, you may want to lightly sand any drips or spots that you may have gotten on the front of the wood, as otherwise, it can show through your paper.

Once it’s fully dry, you can affix your “daily prophet” to the front. Either use the one you printed off as a template if it’s not damaged, or print a fresh one. I used double sided tape to attach mine to prevent any ink bleeding from getting the paper damp, but you can use whatever you like. I didn’t want to mod podge the front to seal it, again, as I was concerned about bleeding ink and also because I wanted it to have the matte look of a newspaper. If you’d prefer yours to be sealed or shiny, by all means, go for it.

After your frame is done, all that’s left to do is to follow the instructions on photojojo to make your moving picture, and you’re done! Tell your friends, or let them think they’re going crazy when they think they see a picture wink at them the next time they’re over at your place. Either way, have fun and enjoy having just a bit more magic in your everyday life!

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 I’m confused, this one says “wizard” and the one up top says “wizards”. Good catch! I made one for myself as well, the one above is the one I mailed out on the exchange. And he LOVED it.

 

The Outback Kangaroo Farm in Arlington, WA

“Ewwwwwww, it’s not like in cartoons.” “Yeah, there’s a lot more mucus.” – The Simpsons, Bart vs Australia

You could go all the way to Australia and try to interact with their kangaroos. It’s not advisable, but you could. Or you could save yourself the cost of international travel and a potential disembowelment and interact with the tame ones at the Outback Kangaroo Farm in Arlington, WA instead. I won’t judge you either way.

We took the earliest tour, in the hopes that it wouldn’t be too crowded and that the majority of families with small children would still be stuffing them with cheerios and wrestling them into the car to head to the farm as we were leaving…but no such luck. I know I often come across like a wretched kid-hater especially since it’s common knowledge that I don’t plan on having any myself, but my hopes mainly stem from my selfish desire to be able to do everything. If there are kids present, there’s no way I stand a chance of being selected to feed the lemurs a banana. There is no adult on Earth who can win a contest competing against children. The odds are on par with a unicorn swooping out of the clouds and taking you for a journey to the moon–and since there’s a kid around, there goes your shot at that, too. And I get it: those experiences are magical and special to kids. But damn it, I want to do it, too! And I know without you having to tell me that my attitude makes me the biggest baby in the world. I still have to pay adult admission, though. WAH.

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The lemurs were the only animals that you had to be selected by a staff member to feed. As for everything else, they gave visitors bits of bread to feed the kangaroos and wallabies. Not entire loaves, like the Olympic Game Farm, but bread nonetheless, which as we all know, is what they eat in the wild, building cob ovens in the outback and baking their tiny paws to the bone, or bartering pouch rides for cookies with the Keebler elves. But in order to actually feed them their daily requirement of Wonder Bread without shoving a kid out of the way (which I would like to remind you is something I would not do), we ended up trailing farther and farther behind the tour group.

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chupacabraI don’t know what animal this is, so I’m going with “chupacabra”.

kangaroo

kangaroo-at-roo-zooThe kangaroos were much more shy than the wallabies, which would probably follow you into your car if they thought you might have more bread.

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roo-zoo-scratches

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We ended up so far behind the group that we missed the ostriches entirely. On the way, we paused to take a picture with the black and white pony they had tied up on the path: bear in mind, that at this point, everything on the farm could be touched or fed, and we had no reason to believe that pattern was changing. The pony, however, was having none of it. As Jason posed with him, he shifted his hindquarters around and threw a kick at Jason’s knees (either he missed accidentally or it was a warning shot). Immediately after this kick was launched, the tour guide yelled at us, saying that he’d warned the group that no one should approach the pony for just that reason. Now, ignoring that we didn’t hear said warning because he was moving on before everyone had a chance to use up their bread allotment, why exactly would they tie up a pony with anger management issues so close to a walking path where he could put a hoof through numerous knees and faces?

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bad-oreo

alpaca

After The Pony Incident ™, we were invited to feed an alpaca a treat by holding it between our lips and waiting for the alpaca to kiss it off, much like that college dorm standbye “suck and blow” but with way less sexy results. Unless you’re into that sort of thing. I, personally, have had a little too much experience with the phrase “gee, that’s never happened before” applying to me to be entirely comfortable with an animal lunging at my face for food, so I elected to sit this one out.

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baby-wallaby

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Hands down, the best part of the tour was at the very end, when they lead you back into the gift shop and allow you to hold a baby wallaby. I could have snuggled that adorable baby for hours. I wanted to smuggle it home, but sadly too many people were watching….this time. After all, how hard could it be? I do have plenty of bread around.

In Defense of Traveling Like A Tourist

tourists

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” Paul Theroux

“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you.” – Andrew Zimmern

“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton

“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.”” – Daniel J. Boorstin

“If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” -Anonymous

 

Picture  a tourist in your head. Mostly likely, you envisioned someone with a camera strapped around their neck, wearing ill-fitting shorts, some manner of shirt with a tropical print or beer logo on it, fanny pack clamped to their waist, and a stripe of sunblock down their nose. Maybe they were even wearing socks with sandals. You may have additionally determined that this person is ignorant of the local customs, of the language, and is looking for the most mundane, prepackaged  experience and wondering how they can find the closest Applebees. Don’t get too caught up in your elitist fantasy: that person is you.

Now, you may not necessarily look for a place where it’s “always Friday” and you may have studied the language or read up on the culture. You may dress impeccably. But if you’re visiting an area in which you do not live for the purposes of pleasure or experiencing culture, you’re a tourist. Tourist shouldn’t be shorthand for ignorant, but it’s been this way for years: people mutter about the “damn tourists” in their town, and fancy themselves “travelers” instead, romanticizing a synonym, waxing rhapsodically about their style of travel,  and drawing imaginary contrasts between  the two words so that they can justify looking down their collective noses.

Lately, the buzz on blogs and magazines and even television is to travel “like a local”: do what locals do, eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep in order to have a more “authentic experience”. It’s a new way to draw a line in the sand between what they do and tourism, and it’s equally arbitrary, and equally rubbish.

Locals eschew the wonders in their own backyards

How many times have you talked to a friend who lives in another city/state/country and asked them about a famous landmark or activity, only to have them respond “Oh, I’ve never been there.” You think “What?! Why not? How is that possible, you’re right there, it would be the easiest thing in the world for you to go!” Turn that eye inward: what in your area have you been “meaning to visit” and “not gotten around to”? A museum? A famous building? A natural landscape? A highly-rated and/or expensive restaurant? How much do you know about local history? Would you say that someone who travels to the area should follow in your footsteps, that it would be the best way to experience the area?

“Like a local” fetishizes a certain type of local

“Travel like a local” is, at its best, disingenuous. The people filling their Pinterest boards with high contrast photos of exotic locales with twee quotes about travel written on them aren’t aching to actually travel like a local. They don’t want to get a shitty job, come home to an overpriced, poorly furnished craphole of an apartment, eat something from a can, and worry about bills. No, they want to travel like a local rich person: someone who doesn’t have to work,  eats 16 course tasting menus,  and whiles away their days on a lazy bike rides. It’s not that those are bad things, they’re just not the experience of the average local. You want to see new places, make new friends, try new things, and that’s grand. But you don’t want to travel like a local. Not really.

“Local” long term expats shouldn’t be your guide

So many travel guides recommend you locate expat hangouts because you’ll be able to get a wealth of information about the area from them and may be able to cultivate a “local” friendship while you’re in the area. That’s partially true. What you’ll mostly find among any group of expats: an unbelievable amount of complaining. The weather, the traffic, the people, their customs, the food, the health care, the cleanliness…if you sit among a group of expats, what you’ll learn is that everything is terrible, that they hate it all, and everything is so much better back home. This group commiseration is normal; they’re no longer in the honeymoon period, and they need to vent with a group of people who will understand their frustrations. But is that really the best  way to see a country: through the eyes of the disenchanted?

There are no secrets

We live in an age of boundless information. There’s plenty that an individual can learn, but there’s scant “discovery” left on Earth. We were born too late to explore Earth, and too soon to explore space. What’s left is tourism and individual enrichment. You can profess that you have “the heart of an explorer” but the reality is that there are no “best-kept secrets” anymore.  There are no restaurants that only locals know about in the age of Yelp and blogs. If people like something, they talk about it. Even the best restaurant in the world will go under if no one knows it’s there! Thus, the rub with the “travel like a local” crowd: Are you not going to visit the highest-rated places just because tourists know about them now, too? Which do you want more: the experience or the sense of elitism?

You’re not fooling anyone, anyway

You may have learned some French in high school, maybe brushed up before your visit with the Rosetta Stone. You may place orders in French and dress très chic, sitting at a cafe with your croissant and coffee with nary a fanny pack to be seen. Still, one wrong ‘vous’, an unusual accent,  will out you. And yet the world will not end. Locals may actually be more inclined to help you: to give directions, to be more patient when you’re fumbling with their currency or language. And there are some areas of the world in which you never could pass as local, no matter how long you spend in the area…and that’s ok, too.

Tourism makes the world go ’round

Well, not literally. Physics does that. But economically, tourism is vital, regardless of whether you’re eating at a street vendor or a chain restaurant. Tourism bridges gaps between disparate cultures and peoples and creates opportunities for employment for locals. To roll your eyes at those who visit Paris and beeline toward the Eiffel Tower or those whose primary goal when visiting Seattle is to go to the top of the Space Needle is to roll your eyes at tourism itself: the impetus felt to see a wonder in person, to touch history, and to better understand the world we live in. No, locals may not visit those places more than once, if ever, but sites that drive tourism are just as important as your favorite hole-in-the-wall bagel joint. Moreso, actually, as they bring money into the area that’s vital to growth and allows smaller spots to survive that otherwise wouldn’t.

You may only get to visit once

Ironically, there’s no one more dedicated to avoiding tourists than the elitist tourist. I once read an article about a woman who took a class on her trip, just so she could smugly ascertain that there were no other tourists present. …Congratulations?
Unless you’re an heiress, you’ll never have as much travel time and money as you’d like. The average American earns one week per year, and of that week, uses four days of it…that is, if your employer offers paid vacation at all and doesn’t penalize you for actually taking the vacation time you’ve earned. Disneyworld may claim “it’s a small world after all,” but unless you make travel a priority in your life, you’ll likely never visit all of the places you’d like to go. So why would you spent your  travel time trying to live up to someone else’s standards for where you should go and what you should see or feel embarrassed about what you like?

If you want to visit every tourist trap on Earth, visit every tourist trap on Earth. If you want to rent a room through AirBNB and only eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, go nuts. If you want to hike across a country, do it. Don’t let any magazine or elitist hipster douchelord blog tell you that you’re doing it wrong, because “the best way to travel is ____”. When it comes down to it, no matter how you style your trips, you’re a tourist…and that’s ok. It doesn’t make you ignorant, or disrespectful, or anything other than someone seeing the world on their own terms.