A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Best 2012 Commencement Speeches, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban supersized sodas

Not funny, but worth noting: Just as rumors and winds of a tornado edged toward D.C. Friday evening, The Washington Post Tweeted: “Send us your storm photos, but don’t put yourself at risk for the pics.”

-o- Best 2012 Commencement Speakers -o-

What do Michelle Obama, Aaron Sorkin, Neil Gaiman, and Jane Lynch have in common? They’re all featured by The Wall Street Journal as notable commencement speakers. Here’s the WSJ roundup with embedded videos of the above speakers’ speeches and more.

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Love these. Do people who own e-readers read more books? Which is the most popular e-reader? This infographic even attempts to answer the question of why people read books.

Infographic from Mashable.

-o- Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposes a ban on super-sized sodas -o-

Mayor Bloomberg of New York City has decided to try and ban all sodas over 16 oz. So… cups? Bottles? Cans? All of the above? Seems totally ridiculous to me but… This country is facing a lot of obesity-related health problems. Maybe just getting people talking about this is a good idea.

Here’s a link to Stephen Colbert’s video on the attempt: awesome.

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This is more tourist-y than literary, but still way cool. In a few weeks my Aunt Susan and Uncle Brad are staging NY Peb Crawl Round III; maybe I can get one of these on the list!

Collection from Lonely Planet.

-o- 10 Jaw-droppingly beautiful places -o-

StumbleUpon has become fun again! Gallery (originally on BuzzFeed); I’ve been to Cinque Terre and want to go to that Crooked Forest ASAP.

-o- Top 100 Bestselling Books in the country -o-

List from Publisher’s Weekly. I included this because just today my friend told me she’d read Fifty Shades of Grey at the beach and I hadn’t even heard of it. And THEN my cousin raved about it at my Aunt Ginny’s birthday party. I’ll have to check it out!

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Here’s the recipe from SkinnyTaste.

(Image source: SkinnyTaste.com)

My last cooking adventure with the lovely Lindsey was SUPER successful… stay tuned for pics of our roasted chicken and romaine with spinach and red peppers.

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International Traveling: Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa in Pictures, II

**Thanks again to my wonderful cousin Scott for the photos.

Travel Writing: Recent articles

A little over two months ago I shared some of my travel writing with you, my loyal followers. Here’s that post.

I expected to sort of wean myself off of my freelance assignments (especially those I was completing free of charge) but I still find myself enjoying the few hours a week I spend learning about “something else” – not work-related being the key draw.

Here is a collection of my recent articles:

I’d like to visit each of these places! I’ve never been to any of them, despite having spent time in both Spain and Italy. I’ve never been to Asia at all (unless you count crossing into the Asian part of Turkey very briefly while on a boat in the Bosphorus Strait), or to Mexico.

Sigh. I turn 25 this year, and I think it’s time to make a bucket list. Stay tuned.

A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Peyton Manning to sign with the Broncos, Successes and Pitfalls of online dating algorithms

-o- I visited old friends in Brooklyn! -o-

Okay, so that’s not news… but it was still very funny (and fun)… details in my travel post on Thursday!

-o- Peyton Manning in talks to sign with the Broncos -o-

The waiting looks to be over and lots of people are disappointed… perhaps especially San Francisco football fans, who saw a Super Bowl title in their future with Manning on board. The biggest losers? Tim Tebow and all the Tebowmaniacs  out there. But maybe that’s a good thing considering where Lin-sanity has landed.

Here’s the news from Reuters.

(Source: Sports Illustrated.com)

-o- In-vitro and arcane survivor benefit laws -o-

A new Supreme Court case seeks to decide if a child conceived after the death of the father is entitled to survivor benefits.

In this case, after the husband was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and facing sterilization from chemotherapy, the couple decided to freeze some sperm so their already living child could grow up with siblings. Sadly, the father passed away, but true to his dying wish, the mother impregnated herself through in vitro fertilization. Once the child was born, she applied for Social Security survivor benefits.

The Social Security Administration balked and (like a true American) she sued. The case is now before the Supreme Court.

-o- Online Matchmaking:  Success?-o-

Jonah Leher of the WSJ offers an interesting piece on the nuances of online dating sites. About 20% of love birds now meet online with eharmony alone accounting for 5% of new wedding bells. (People are still unsure of where drunk in Vegas ranks.)

Despite the growth and popularity of the concept, Leher poignantly points out the many pitfalls of being matched by a computer algorithm.

What do you think? Personally, I think online dating seems like a way to meet people, if nothing else, and that is getting harder in today’s world of smaller yet ever more interconnected spheres.

-o- Spiders flee Australian flood – in pictures -o-

There were torrential rains in eastern Australia earlier this month, and large parts of New South Wales flooded. Daniel Munoz, a Reuters photographer, found an area swathed in spiderwebs. Why? How? Read the story to find out!

This is AMAZING: Gallery and story from The Atlantic.

(Source: Daniel Munoz, The Atlantic)

-o- Recipe of the Week: Goat-Cheese Stuffed Chicken Meatballs -o-

A new feature to conclude my Monday post… this week, Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Meatballs from Inspired Taste. Made this with my friend Amanda this weekend and will be making them with my man this week. Enjoy!

(Source: Inspired Taste)

Cross Country Tripping – San Francisco, CA, Part II

I spent the first half of this week in San Francisco, California with coworkers attending an annual conference.  Having just been there with my man, I thought often about the two of us walking along the same streets, seeing the same sights , etc. I had a lot of fun thinking about my time there with him and on that note, here is the rest of the recount of our time there in July.

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San Francisco, CA Part II – July 14, 2011

We meant to get up early this morning, but we overslept and missed  the breakfast served at our hostel. Fine by me! I fought Brian on this the whole way, but I love reading menus and finding places to eat, especially in new places. We found a deli with pickles, meats and various bread products in the windows and had a delicious breakfast of eggs and endless coffee.

We took the 8x bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, marveling at the misty coolness of the city and thinking of the 100 degree whether back home, taking in the streets and shops and architecture, the cable lines and the people.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the city’s main tourist attractions; it is home to an aquarium, several restaurants and souvenir shops, entertainers, information centers, and stands selling everything from waffles to gold jewelry. Our first stop was the Aquarium of the Bay. (I’m not at all ashamed to admit I LOVE going to aquariums and this one was within our budget, unlike Monterey Bay an hour or so south of the city. Sigh. Next time!)

We saw jellyfish, crabs, tropical fish, and big fish and sharks and rays in two tunnels in which we walked “through” two large tanks – a “near shore” tank and a “far shore” tank. It’d be really cool (slash terrifying) if you actually were in an entirely glass tunnel , with water on all sides. This aquarium featured one of those moving tunnels in which you can see the fish swimming above you. Still cool. They usually have a Pacific octopus that has been rescued or otherwise removed from the bay, but their resident had recently died.

We also saw chinchillas (I thought that was odd but not unenjoyable) and several exhibits about the San Francisco Bay and its state of health which I am sorry to say is not optimal. There is a large gyre (whirlpool-like water formation) in the Bay which, among other things, causes trash and debris to get caught and stuck there.

We left the aquarium and found a small information center (I know, such tourists… I swear we weren’t wearing fanny packs or anything). Brian wanted to walked to Pier 41 or 45 (can’t remember) and see some old ships and the Maritime Museum. On the way, we walked through the bustle of Pier 39 and stopped in a left-handed goods shop called, I think, Lefty’s (clever, right?) I still wonder if we saw as many left-handed people as other Ned Flanders fans.

We also paused and watched a Captain Jack Sparrow-lookalike do some pretty boring tricks while mostly just talking about how he wanted the crowd to give him lots of money. BUT THEN we found the most amazing street performers!

The  acrobats told the crowd they were two brothers and a sister from a larger family in the U.K., but Brian suspects that may not have been the case. Who cares? They were so entertained, talented and above all fun to watch, and what else do you want from a street performer? We got there early while they were building a crowd and so got to hear the whole back and forth warm-up routine between the two young men.  One of the men  could hop up the steps of a standing, unsupported ladder and then stand at the top while juggling bowling pins! The other young man and his sister were extremely strong and flexible and could twist themselves into all sorts of painful-looking shapes. She could also stand on his shoulders while they, both of them, stand on a large rubber ball.

At one point, they called another guy out of the crowd to do a few “tricks” and it was amazing; the guy was in such good shape he could actually do some of the acrobatic bending he was asked to do. He even looked like he was going to attempt a standing back flip but stopped just in time. We gave them money at the end… they were wonderful.

We then walked along the water and came upon a super cool (and free admission!) museum.

It was an old-time game museum in which each machine was operated by quarters. There was pinball and fuseball, and I played Ms. Pacman and got to the pretzel level for the first time using a joystick! There were also palm readers and strength testers, “movies” you could look through a viewfinder and watch once you’d inserted a quarter, and animatronic scenes, also activated by quarters. We had a lot of fun playing around in there, though Brian did beat me at fuseball.

We then went to find Brian’s ships. We did find them, but he didn’t think they were impressive enough to pay admission to see (he grew up working on the old ships in Baltimore Harbor), which was lucky because by that point I was getting hungry to the point of being crabby. We skipped Ghiradelli Square and had a simple lunch in an Italian restaurant with views of the milling streets through the open windows. After lunch we headed to a chocolate shop and bought a large slab for James (which of course melted by the time we got back to the East Coast – good thinking there by us) and some gelato.

Finally it was time to head to Pier 35 and pick up our tickets for the night tour of Alcatraz Island. The boat ride was fun and we learned a bit about the island prison in line waiting to board and on the ferry ride. It was windy and cold (insert Twain quote here) but the tour was very enjoyable. Our guide for the first part of the tour (the walk from the docks to the prison) was knowledgeable and informative.

Did you know that Alcatraz was originally a military prison? It housed prisoners that had gone AWOL and the atmosphere was apparently rather relaxed, even friendly. In October 1993 the island was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons and converted into a high-security federal prison.

We then took an audio tour of the prison itself. The first thing that struck me, as “The Rock” is one of my favorite action movies, was the cells themselves in which the actors playing the hostages in the film were held. So essentially I was in this scary prison and felt like I was on a movie set. Ah, Hollywood.

Anyway, one of the coolest aspects of the tour is that it is narrated by actual former prison guards and prisoners. We learned about library privileges, dining options, rules, items allowed in prison cells, and, most interestingly, escape attempts. There were two attempts that have become the most famed, one in 1946 and one in 1962.

In 1946 five men took five guards hostage and, when the guards refused to relinquish the keys to the outside, opened fire. I believe five prisoners and three (or more) guards died in that attempt and the shoot-out that followed. In 1962, three men crafted paper versions of their heads and left them in their cells. Then, using primarily metal spoons fasted into drills, escaped into the utility ducts. These men were never found and are presumed dead.

There were also some narratives by children of the guards who had lived with their families on the island (when it was a military prison, the island had a school and various recreational activities). I would definitely recommend taking the tour if you ever visit the city.

We caught a ferry back to the city and found a bus to take us back to our hostel. After a slice of pizza and a few episodes of “That 70s Show” we went to bed planning to wake up early and make it over the Oakland Bay Bridge before morning rush hour.

Off to Vegas! Thank you, San Francisco, for a wonderful adventure!

A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… The Lorax has a huge opening weekend, Siri comes to life

-o- Lindsay Lohan hosts SNL, stars in new film -o-

 Lindsay Lohan made fun of her criminal record and rehab stints while hosting

(Source: Getty Images)

And she’s back: Lohan made fun of her own “bad-girl rep” and run-ins with the police while hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend. She will also be starring as Elizabeth Taylor in the upcoming Liz & Dick. Here’s the CNN article on the young star’s comeback.

-o- 5 Reasons the Virginia ultrasound bill is still ridiculous -o-

Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound bill is now on it’s way to the states’s governor, Bob McDonnell. Though the final version does not have the mandatory ultrasound stipulation, it’s still a TERRIBLE bill. Read this piece from Mother Jones by Maya Dusenbery.

Among the reasons? According to two not-yet-released studies, research has shown that women’s decision-making processes are not affected by the sight of an ultrasound.

-o- The Lorax has a huge opening weekend -o-

Despite the outcry over product placement in the movie, it banked $70.7 million over the weekend.

Bigger than it looks … The Lorax dominated the US box office over the weekend

(Source: Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar)

Here’s the Guardian film blog post for more information.

-o- 500 New fairy tales discovered in Germany -o-

New fairy tales!!! A collection of 500 stories were discovered after hiding in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. Here’s the Guardian piece.

-o- Contest Winners: Siri Comes to Life in 3D -o-

A few weeks ago Shapeways asked their readers to submit “What Siri Looks Like.” Here’s the Shapeways post; and here’s the article on The Huffington Post. One of the winners, “Omniscient Siri” but SaGa Design, is below. Check out the links for photos of the other winners and honorable mentions!

(Source: SaGa Design, Shapeways)

-o- World’s 10 Most Picturesque Villages -o-

From Yahoo! Here’s the gallery. They all look amazing, but check out these buildings in Shirakawa-go, Japan

Shirakawa-go (Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Dreamstime.com)

(Source: Ekatarina Pokrovsky/Dreamstime.com)

-o- Archie issue featuring gay marriage sells out -o-

Despite the fact that the conservative group One Million Moms protested the selling of this comic in Toys R Us, even threatening to withdraw business from the store if they carried the issue, it sold out! Here’s the Guardian article.

HA!

-o- TV Characters you love to hate -o-

List from the A.V. Club by their staff. Who’s your favorite love-to-hate character? The ones from this selection I agree with most vehemently are Jack and Kate from Lost; though Will Schuester from Glee is a close second! I think I may hate him for real, though…

Cross Country Tripping: Crater Lake, Oregon

During my youth, my parents took my siblings and I on summer road trips around the country. When I was eleven years old we visited Crater Lake National Park. My memories of the lake are clear and vibrant; I remember taking a boat to an island in the lake and looking down into the deep, able to see to the bottom. I remember thinking I saw a rock that reminded me of Skull Rock from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (okay, from Disney’s interpretation of it). So I was so so excited to share the experience with Brian. But when we got there…

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Crater Lake, OR – July 9-10, 2011

So we arrived in Crater Lake National Park after our longest day of driving so far – almost 10 1/2 hours. We saw most of Oregon, though! We got to the National Park in the evening to find that most of the campground, half of the road around the lake and almost all of the hiking trails were buried in snow. It turns out Crater Lake got almost 29 feet of snow MORE than usual in 2011 and the park was a few weeks behind schedule in their preparations for tourists. This was my first reminder that checking ahead for weather conditions before arriving at our next destination and planning to sleep outside was probably a good idea.

The campsite we found was the only one left with an even close-to-dry space for a small tent. We purchased firewood only to find our fire ring buried in snow. And, to top it all off, the mosquito population was denser and hungrier than anyone would expect when surrounded by snow.

So, for the first and last time in our trip, we put all of our stuff in the tent and slept in the van. It was actually kind of fun; Brian ran a clothesline all around the car and we hung sheets and buried ourselves in a nest of blankets, sleeping bags and clothes.

Before we went to sleep we drove to Watchman’s Overlook and saw the deep blue color of Crater Lake in the evening before snacking and watching the sunset over the snow-covered mountains. It was a lovely sunset: pink and gold.

The next morning, we moved around our reservations so we’d leave Crater Lake a day early and have an extra day in the Redwoods (though it was cold there, too!) Brian made a yummy breakfast of turkey bacon and scrambled eggs with cheese. We then drove to the Cleetwood Cove trail, the only one not buried in snow. However, it’s also the only trail I remembered from my first visit there; a mile-long winding pathway down to the lake and what would be the boat dock but was not quite, yet.

We should have brought bathing suits with us or at least dry clothes so we could jump in. Just look at this water!

The hike back up was waaaay tough.

We met a nice couple who recommended having drinks and appetizers at the lodge, which we did and was a super enjoyable post-hiking treat. We explored the lodge and then sat in the “Great Room” by the window so we could see the lake. We had French Onion soup, Northwestern Clam Chowder, a salad and a crab-and-artichoke dip. Yummy! Brian also tasted a local beer, which we tried to do in several of the places we visited. (Next time: Bourbon Trail.)

We left the park and drove south to the Crescent City/Redwoods Kampground of America (KOA) – feel free to mock me for this, but laundry facilities and showers are valuable commodities. As are ice cream bars and marshmallows. The drive was windy and we listened to the Council of Elrond chapter of Lord of the Rings on the way.

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Despite the snow and the bugs and the buried-ness(in mid-July), Crater Lake was just as I remembered it – one of the most beautiful natural treasures in the country.