Is It Civilization if There is No Internet?

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Every year we travel to my mother-in-law’s for Thanksgiving. We visit with her and my brother-in-law and see my brother, sister and nieces on the weekend. It’s wonderful and a lot of fun, and we hang out and play, watch the parade, take pictures, visit the cemetery as people are wont to do on the holidays, and go shopping. It’s all very civilized. We actually did pretty well this Black Friday. We started at 1pm, finished and home by 3. Gotta love Target’s two day sale! We did a proper Black Friday once. It was actually a lot of fun. The kids were little, and we were finished before 7am and went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. It was still barely light out.

The one challenge we do have every year is that all of us are connected. My daughter wants to video chat with her new friend. My son wants to watch You Tube. My other son wants to keep in touch with his friends who were home from college and catch up on his medical/paramedical podcasts. My husband and I also have our digital vices.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law is not connected. To anything. No internet. In fact, all her neighbors have password protected wifi. I’m usually against ‘borrowing’ other people’s internet, but this might be classified as an emergency. Sadly, we do not know their passwords.

It’s almost impossible in this tech centered world we live in to gauge the amount of time we spend online or attached to some sort of social media site. Our friends are so far flung out that we almost forget how far they really are because they are always so present in our daily lives.

Well, during Thanksgiving week, we do know. Apparently, I check my Facebook and Tumblr first thing when I wake up. I post about my day all throughout the day, and I attempt to blog here every day. Every. Day. This is not usually such a challenge except for the pesky writing bit, but during Thanksgiving week I am finding it next to impossible and have to adopt a new writing ritual.

I spend my afternoon thinking about what I want to write about, and then I spend the evening typing and editing and rewriting, and then proofreading, saving, etc. I can set it up and find my photos in the gallery from earlier that day or the day before that goes well with my words on the page…er….screen, and then there is the frantic attempt to find wifi the next morning. The kids ask constantly – do they have wifi wherever we go They do, but can you use it is the real question.

The first place I posted from was the local Starbucks. I had a free drink waiting, so it didn’t cost anything, but we did look kind of stereotypical, out of touch, constantly attached to the digital world, forgetting about the “real” world or meatspace. It’s Thanksgiving morning and all five of us were crammed into a small booth, each with our faces buried in our various smartphones and/or tablets/Kindle Fires. At one point, I noticed the family of three sitting next to us. They had a coffee and the boy was on a smartphone. I can almost always tell when someone is watching me (although I think they were checking out my keyboard), so I looked up and caught the mom’s eye. I laughed, she laughed, and then I even said, I know we look ridiculous but my mother in law has no internet. She laughed. She seemed to understand our predicament.

The second day I was more ready. I had everything set up as a draft in Word Press and as soon as we got to DQ (Dairy Queen) for lunch, I connected and hit publish. Easiest five minutes I’ve ever spent.

At this point, my kids were having trouble connecting their devices. Mine remembered from our visit in the spring, so it just automatically connected. I was online in a matter of seconds.

Today, this will be posted from my brother’s dojo. He has internet, wifi, but he hates that we come to visit and use it and go online, but it is our only opportunity to get our stuff done. Yesterday when I connected at DQ, I had fifty-eight emails waiting to be read, and that was with checking them on my 4G phone earlier. (The 4G kills the battery, and I can’t post to WP with that – that’s why I don’t use it as often as my keyboard and kindle.

We go home tomorrow for The Walking Dead and Pizza Hut’s Triple Treat.

The question in the title must still be answered:

As civilized as we’ve become and continuing to become, is it really civilized if there is no access to the internet?

The answer remains to be seen.

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Attitude of Gratitude

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We all have our own mental lists to remind us of the wonder of our lives. Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, and for those of us lucky enough to have our families to celebrate with and enjoy a ridiculously large feast, it is one of those days that we are either awash with feelings or comatose from turkey and napping by mid-afternoon.

So many words to express our thoughts for this holiday season:

Thankful.

Grateful.

Gratitude.

Blessed.

Lucky.

Wonderment.

Humbled.

In less than a week, I turn 49, and then in three hundred sixty-six more days I will be 50. I’m not particularly looking forward to it, although I suppose it’s better than not turning fifty. This might be the impetus to a year long project of not counting down the days, but appreciating the days and the weeks as they pass until that milestone. This might be the baseline to reflect on, but time will tell.

These are the ten things I am most grateful for:

1. Finances – we are still living paycheck to paycheck, as are most middle-class-used-to-be’s, but there might be a light at the end of the tunnel; or at least an even-ing out of our debt.

2. Related to Finances – I’m grateful to our mechanic who let us put our recent car repairs on account so we are able to continue to drive our only car without having the cash on hand.

3. Family – my kids are healthy and doing well in school.

4. I am relatively healthy despite my chronic issues. My knees have even been feeling almost normal most of the time. It’s a welcome change.

5. Writing – I’m managing to write more often and keeping up my  quality, I think anyway. Without my regular writing workshop, which was cancelled, I’ve been lucky to give myself one day a week to work in the library for some of my forgotten projects.

6. I am really enjoying my ongoing re4lationship with Jesus Christ. There was definitely something missing from my life despite my belief in G-d and my spirituality, and I have found it with Christ and in His Church.

7. I have so much gratitude that I live near enough to a shrine and a Dominican retreat center where I can go and meditate and pray. Both places offer different things, but both places are also contemplative and recharge me.

8. Friends – My recent reconnection with some friends through Facebook – one I hadn’t talked to in decades, but thought of often. I also connected with my cousins’ family, both in person and on Facebook.

9. Fandom – another layer of friendship that is unexplainable unless you are in a fandom of your own. Kind, friendly, supportive and constructive – fandom is a beautiful thing, filled with beautiful people.

10. You, dear readers. I hold such gratitude for all of you, all of you who read, comment, like, and visit. Thank you.

I really am so blessed.

A Feast of Gratitude

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I don’t recall traveling to my grandparents for Thanksgiving. Or roasting a turkey until I was married and already moved out. We must have, I suppose. I do, however recall that holiday as more of an adult affair bringing home boyfriends, eventually a husband and children, although we must have celebrated it when I was a child. It is quintessentially an American holliday, and my parents, while raising us Jewish were also raising us American. Not everyone celebrated Christmas, but everyone celebrated Thanksgiving. Putting aside the more recent and current political awareness and justifiable Native American concerns and years of invisibility, it was and continues to be the great unifier. As immigrants continue to come with their many and varied holidays and celebrations, the melting pot adds a turkey and sweet potato casserole to each of their tables, and we are all grateful. Everyone can, and should give thanks. Whether it’s to a Creator or to your family for being there or for your grandparents and great-grandparents for making this life of ours possible in whatever way they did, or just plain old ordinary gratitude for what we have and what we will continue to receive in this life. It really is so much more than Pilgrims and Indians, Mayflowers and planting corn and yams and more than turkeys, in the field or on the platter.

I also remember other family feasts – weekends at my grandmother’s for deli or Chinese food on paper plates, of course. Passover Seders, asking the Four Questions and mushing the gefilte fish with my fork; block parties, courtyard picnics and cook-outs. I imagine it’s like this for everyone regardless of cultural background, but food is everywhere in my childhood. Pizza on Springfield Blvd, and Cantonese on Horace Harding. Filipino at my babysitter’s, steak at Ed’s Warehouse in Toronto – a visit north wasn’t complete without dinner at Old Ed’s. Scuffling through fallen brown and orange leaves, walking to Dr. Herman’s office, then driving the two or three blocks to the drug store to buy cigarettes for my parents and possibly a pack of Chiclets for me and my brother; my sister was too young for gum.

Before my parents passed away, just over ten and eleven years ago, we would always visit them for Thanksgiving. We were lucky in our interfaith family that we decided early on not to make those tough choices of who’s house to visit for which holiday. Christmas was always my mother-in-law’s, so Thanksgiving was my mother’s. No muss, no fuss. Nine out of ten would recommend. It might have helped that my mother-in-law is from Northern Ireland and isn’t that big on commemorating the Pilgrims arrival to the New World. My in-laws would come to my parents’ house for the holiday also. It was almost as extended as when I was a child, at my cousins’ cousins’ house or my aunt by marriage’s father’s apartment, all of us squeezing in to seats all over the living room and kitchen, coming and going and never knowing who was related to whom or how. It was really a beautiful day, almost recreating that for my parents and then my children while we could. For them, with the  grandchildren made it all the better.

When we bought our own house, we opted to stay home for Christmas, and with my parents gone, Thanksgiving is now at my mother-in-law’s. The kids miss a day of school, but scholl will always be there; family is more important and there are many lessons to be learned sitting around the table, getting things ready in the kitchen, and watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, only an hour by train if we actually wanted to be there, and got up early enough in the morning for that to happen.

One missed exit, and we were driving down the Major Deegan, listening to our GPS navigator recalculate, and with each passing overpass marked with a green street sign, I was flooded; not with specific memories, but with emotions and feelings and memories of feelings of traveling these roads between my Grandmother Celia’s and my uncle’s house. Or to my aunt’s brother, John’s apartment. The back and forth of the Cross Bronx Parkway, and remembering a similar back and forth on the Cross Island to see Grandma Sadie, by way of the Douglaston Pkwy for awhile, the Little Neck and then the Cross Island when we moved to Long Island. The streets, a litany of a life long ago, hidden deep until pulled out by a traffic light, or a tall building or streets and avenues one after the other: Jerome, Tremont, Westchester, Castle Hill.  My grandmother in the Bronx lived on Castle Hill. My Grandpa used to “walk” me in my stroller, me wearing a bunny ears hat, carrying a yellow Kodak film box, stopping at the basketball hoops and then turning around to go back. We passed the sign for the hospital I was born in (Bronx Lebanon).  As I mentioned it, my kids were less than impressed. We passed the Bronx Zoo. It was just the sign, but my son still looked for giraffes. I still shiver when I think about the cable car going over the lions’ paddock.

As night fell, the aura of twilight and taillights, streetlights and traffic lights released the emotions of a long forgotten life, a world so apart and so different from the one my kids are growing up in. I struggle to give them that wonderful life, full of wonder and friends who were also family.
I’m thankful for so many things, but while today we are rushing to claim the Starbucks wifi (Grandma doesn’t have wifi or any internet), I will save tomorrow to list my gratitude amidst the rushing of Christmas shopping and mall traffic and list-making for the rest of the year.

Tomorrow is the day I want to remember my gratitude and b e grateful because that is usually the day we forget about it until next year.

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Have a Wonderful and Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.

Roadside America

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When I was a kid I was lucky enough that my parents took my siblings and I on many family vacations. I learned history on many of these trips. We visited family in Toronto, Canada, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We also went to Niagara Falls, the Ontario Science Center, and Disneyworld. We were really lucky. A few of the other places we traveled to on our East Coast adventures were what you might call kitschy or roadside attractions. We never saw a great ball of twine or see Area 51 or even the Corn Palace, but we went to Amish Country, the Fountain of Youth, South of the Border and Zinn’s Diner (now closed). I remember the last two vividly. South of the Border was like entering into a fantasyland filled with neon lights and fireworks stands. The giant man in the sombrero was even more gigantic to small children, aged 4-8.

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Photo Credit: Leonard J. DeFrancisci, July 2008

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Photo Credit: Matthew Logan

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Zinn's Diner Postcard

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Public Domain

The Disney/Pixar movie Cars reminded us of those things found on the road trip of following Route 66, seeing things that couldn’t be seen anywhere else, and I thought about my childhood of road trips both north and south. Everyone should see at least one ridiculous roadside attraction in their lives, and if they’re lucky, they should see many more.

Here are a few suggestions and resources:

Budget Travel’s 25 Wackiest Roadside Attractions (Slideshow)

Budget Travel’s Ultimate Road Trip App

Things You Will See on a Road Trip Across America

South of the Border

Amos the Amish Man Giant Statue

Amos’ Current Location

Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park

Corn Palace

Great Ball of Twine

Route 66

Niagara Falls – not so much roadside attraction, but a can’t be missed world wonder

Visit Area 51

Area 51 Sightseeing

Don’t Panic: Visiting Area 51

America’s Car Museum

Saratoga Automobile Museum

Tech for Travel

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From Left to Right: Flashlight, Car Adaptor, Wall Adaptor, USB charger cord, earbuds, flash drive, and MP3 player

It used to be that my list of travel tech was one line long – cell phone. Then it became two lines – cell phone and GPS. Now it’s a bit more. We usually travel to my mother-in-law’s, and her house is less than tech savvy. Not to mention that my husband always asks for the car charger or the house charger because he forgot his.

Tech needs vary individually. This is my indispensable list plus a few odds and ends that come in handy by one or more members of my family.

Mini Surge Protector – this has three outlets and two USB ports

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Mini Surge Protector by Belkin

USB Car Charger Adaptor

USB extra long charger cord for reading in bed

Cell phone and charger. (Check your data plan before you travel. My mother-in-law doesn’t have wifi, and her brick house just eats our data like crazy.)

Kindle Fire and charger. (If you ‘re in a place without wifi, turn it off. If it’s on, it will continue to search for a wifi signal, and drain your battery.)

Kindle Keyboard and charger (the chargers are interchangeable so I may or may not bring all of them – two is the minimum in case my husband or kids need them)

Camera and charger

MP3 Player and charger

Earbuds or Headphones

Headphone splitter (this allows two headsets to be plugged into one device)

Flashlight (in my case it’s a Sonic Screwdriver flashlight)

Portable DVD player, electric cord, a variety of DVDs (our family rule of thumb is two per person)

Flash drive

Two Prong/Three Prong Adaptor

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Plug Adaptor

In the comments, add your own must-haves for tech to travel with.

Food for Travel

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Our family travels by car 99% of the time. With three kids, they either want to stop to eat or stop to use the bathroom. Anyone who has ever stopped on a highway area rest area will know that their prices are at least one third higher than the nearest exit. Unfortunately, the nearest exit is usually about five miles from the place with the food and/or the bathroom. When our kids were very young, we brought everything with us. It was certainly cheaper to bring a full box of Cheerios and a box of Pop-Tarts, buying a gallon of milk and a pound of cheese from the local supermarket. I also packed goodies for Mommy & Daddy like a 12 pack of soda so we don’t have to spend our money in the overpriced hotel vending machines.
In a hotel, we always ask for a room with a refrigerator. Many come with microwaves. Almost all have coffee makers, which is also perfect for boiling water for tea.

Most of our choices worked for both a weekend or week long vacation out of town as well as a visit out of town to Grandma’s.

Some of our favorites:
Non-Perishable:

Cheerios
Raisins/Dried Cranberries
Granola
Granola bars
Pretzels
Water
Juice boxes

Perishable items to Buy Locally:

Milk
Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Yogurt

Other Items to Think About:

Tea bags (the only place I didn’t bring my own tea was my trip to the UK)
Single serve instant Coffee

I try to avoid chocolate unless you’re going to eat it within the first couple of hours. No matter the season, the car gets very hot, and chocolate will melt, ruining whatever you’ve put it into.

Ziploc or other zipper plastic bags – they have dozens of uses.
Despite all of these snack choices, remember to have some money for a midnight snack and to avoid extra ATM fees.

Add you own must have snacks and/or travel food in the comments.

Tomorrow: Travel Tech

Saints of Travel

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Even to those who are not religious it is common to pray for safe travel. Whether praying to a deity or the one true G-d or goddesses or anything in between, we all wish and hope for safe travels. We ask for good weather and no mechanical mishaps and no crying children or snoring neighbors leaning in our shoulders in each of our own ways. We beg the Almighty for an empty middle seat and no turbulence.

Here are a few of the Catholic patrons of traveling or travelers including my own patron, St. Elen.

I’ve read that St. Christopher is no longer a patron of travel. I know many thousands of people who would disagree so I’ve included him in this list.

St. Anthony of Padua
St. Christopher
St. Elen
St. Joseph, Husband of Mary
St. Nicholas

Please add your own travel companions in the comments.