Sunday, June 30, 2013

That's a wrap! 30 days straight!

That's 30 straight posts, baby! Yep, I somehow pulled it off again to post everyday during Word Count's 2013 blogathon.

It never fails. Something always comes up each year that thwarts my efforts, but I seem to somehow prevail. 

This year I dealt with my step-dad having emergency open heart surgery, my mother being hospitalized with chest pains and a nine day planned vacation during the month long blogathon writing frenzy so next year when you are on the fence about not participating in the 2014 blogathon because your schedule is um, too busy, well, I don't want to hear it. (I'm writing this last post on my iPhone while sitting in a hospital waiting room) The old saying, "If there's a will, there's a way" is so true!

I continue to find time for the blogathon every year because:

  • It pushes me to try new technology- this year I learned more about using blogging apps and my iPad and iPhone to make posts
  • I meet wonderful people- blogathoners are super nice, supportive and helpful
  • It forces me to write short posts which is outside my wheelhouse 
  • The daily commitment makes me realize I DO have some free time in my days and I  need to continue to utilize this time every day by committing to a class online or some other enrichment program.
  • And finally, just the sense of accomplishment afterwards that I committed to it and finished it is gratifying.
So...see you blogathoners online...until next year when we do it all again!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lessons learned traveling on Amtrak

We just returned from a whirlwind vacation visiting Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston - via Amtrak.  Having lived in the Midwest for most of our lives, traveling by automobile has always been our vacation mode of transportation preference.  But the thought of trying to navigate any of our vacation destinations by auto, quickly had us booking tickets on Amtrak.

We started our journey in Chicago actually where we boarded a plane and landed in D.C.  From there we took Amtrak to our next three destinations.  I learned quite a bit about Amtrak from the experience.  Here's my tips!
  1. Pack Light - Each passenger can have two bags each under 50 pounds, but I recommend packing those bags light because the majority of storage is above your seat (like an airplane) and you'll have to heave-ho that luggage above your head.  Plus, you'll need to quickly (and I mean QUICKLY which I'll explain next) in most cases transport that luggage up a few steps and/or from the platform onto the train that is easily a 2-5 inch gap to maneuver your luggage over.
  2. Be Aware and Be Prepared to MOVE FAST! - Boarding an Amtrak train reminds me somewhat of the beginning of an Amazing Race episode. It's nearly a sprint to the train.  Once the train's track is announced in the station's holding area, be prepared to "B-Line it" to track's gate.  Why all the rush?  Well, your ticket guarantees you a seat, but you can count on families already being on board from previous stops and their kids will be sprawled across two seats each as well as other single travelers who plop down in one seat and try to stake out both seats by placing their purse, briefcase or laptop case on seat #2.  You'll understand this completely if you've ever had a "C" boarding pass on Southwest Airlines.  Finding two seats together or two empty seats (to spread out in if traveling alone) is nearly impossible if you don't happen to be the train's originating station or get on FAST!
  3. Food is Available but Maybe Pack a Healthy Snack - Every train has a cafe car where "airplane-like" snacks are available as well as "what you'd expect" pre-packaged sandwiches. It works if you're starving, but it's not ideal.
  4. Port-A-Potties - Ok, so it's not REALLY a port-a-potty that is on-board, but it's a typical "airplane-ish" restroom that reminds me of a port-a-potty. Not the best facilities.  My best recommendation regarding this is to remember that this is a train that jostles around on the tracks.  It is NOT always a smooth ride so if inclined to use the facilities while on-board, go when the train is at a stop. You'll thank me for that tidbit of info!
A few other tidbits to note:
D.C. Amtrak Station
  • The train stations are mostly quite nice that offer fast food options and other sundry-type items.
  • I always felt 100% safe.
  • Each seat has access to an electrical outlet and there's free wi-fi that worked quite well for us.  I've heard though of other riders who experienced intermittent signal and problems streaming videos or music.
  • The views from the trains can vary from incredible and picturesque to graffiti-laden.

 Overall, Amtrak is a good experience and great transportation between cities where automobile traffic is already horrible to navigate.  However, if traffic isn't an issue, I, personally, prefer taking a car on vacation.  I guess I'm just a little spoiled having lived in the Midwest where traffic is rarely a problem.

View from train going to Boston
View entering Philly

Platform approaching Boston
View leaving New York City

Thursday, June 27, 2013

9/11 Memorial Video

Now that I'm home from vacation and have access to my You Tube account password, I wanted to share this video I took at the 9/11 Memorial. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but video is worth a few billion!

This video was taken while standing at the south pool looking toward the new tower being erected.  The names you see engraved in the stone that surrounds the pool railing are just a few of the nearly 3,000 names listed in total on the pools' outer railings. 

When the camera pans up...that's the new tower you're looking at. 

The other pool, identical except for the addition of other names in the stone, is located just to the left of the new tower.

It's really a powerful place to visit.  If you're ever in New York City, I encourage you to stop by, but make sure you purchase your ticket online rather than the day of on site.  There's a $2 service charge per ticket to purchase, the otherwise free tickets, online.  Your other option is to stand in line to get a "free" ticket, but plan on standing in line for possibly hours and then coming back at a designated time to enter.  Save yourself the grief and purchase a ticket online.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Five tips to posting on the road

Blogathon while on vacation?  My first thought was, "No way!"  But I had to give it a try, and I'm glad I did because it wasn't too much of an imposition having prepared well.  Plus, it forced me to learn a bit about blogging on the road.

Here's five tips to make life a little easier when blogging dailt while traveling:

1.  Let technology work for you - I downloaded the Blogger app for both my iPad and iPhone before I left for vacation, and I used them both.  While the app has many more limitations (ie. little text formatting, no picture size options or placement, no spell check, no bullets or numbered lists) than the internet version, it allowed me to post at times when I couldn't get on a laptop or desktop.  The other advantage of the app is that it makes it very easy to post photos taken from either device.  I understand that WordPress has an app as well.

2.  Recharge, recharge, recharge - Plug in every chance you get because there's nothing worse than finding 20 minutes to blog, but you are about to run out of battery.  Electrical outlets are everywhere. If the airport recharging station is full, roam around the airport.  Watch for open outlets on walls and pillars in airports, walls in restaurants or hotel lobbies.  I even saw a person recharging their phone inside a restroom within the Old Post Office in Washington D.C.

3.  Photos are your savior - Not only does a picture say a thousand words, but it also makes your blog more interesting, adds that all important visual connection to your words and let's face it, helps to fill your blog post when time is short. Take photos of anything you find interesting.  You'd be surprised by the blog post ideas you'll come up with by just looking through your photos.

4.  Keep your eyes open - Unless your blog is very specific in nature, actually when you're traveling, potential posts topics are all around you.  As you travel around keep your eyes open and blogging in the back of your mind.  

5.  Pick-up brochures and literature - Having marketing material about a place you visited saves time when you're blogging on the road.  They provide a wealth of background information that you otherwise may need to research online.  

Daily blogging on the road does take some extra effort, but it is totally doable and won't interfere with your vacation if you just prepare ahead a little and keep a few things in mind. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The art of....well, art!

Because I do not have much artistic talent, I'm always impressed by those who seem to come by it so naturally.

Whether it is a watercolor painting, a metal sculpture or even graffiti on a building, I'm amazed how some people have this God-given gift which was why this fellow caught my attention on Times Square. 
At first glance, it appears he is just spraying a blank canvas wildly with different colors of spray paint. But then he takes a straight edge and begins scraping lines into the paint revealing the canvas below.  
This action combined with adding layers of more spray paint result in a piece of art that is quite incredible.
To add to my amazement, he completed this painting in under 15 minutes! 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Haiku New York City

People everywhere
Morning, noon or late at night
Like another world

Sadness all around
For the senseless loss of life
We never forget