Ideas for a great summer

Take advantage of the waning summer days

Can you believe it is August already?  That means summer is ending soon.  Did you set out to spend some quality time in the sun?  If not, then you need to get started soon.  Not sure what to do to turn your summer into a great experience?  Get inspired by some of the ideas below.

Play the games of the Summer Olympics

No, I don’t mean for you to try to be the next Olympian.  What I am suggesting is that you do try to participate in the sports that are currently airing on TV.  You don’t even have to keep score if you do not wish to do so.  Just get playing and have a blast while you are at it.  Play beach volleyball with a couple of friends.  Be like Michael Phelps and work on your various swimming strokes.  Do you live near a lake?  Try renting a kayak or canoe.  Is your tennis racket collecting dust somewhere?  Take it out for a swing. 

Take a tropical vacation

Summer is a good time to vacation somewhere with a beach that is worthy of being called a tropical paradise.  Head to Hawaii or the Bahamas.  Then apply plenty of sunscreen while there.

Get away from the heat

Is it too hot where you are living?  Are you in need of some cooler air?  Try a vacation in Maine.  The weather there is nice this time of year.  Also, while you are there be sure to have a taste of a very special ice cream flavor.  Lobster ice cream is probably not available anywhere else.

Cool News to Share

Smarty pants pigeons, summer drinks and more…

With all of the crappy news filtering through this week, I thought we could end the week on some positive notes with a couple of cool news stories, such as these…

Pigeon Power

Have you heard that pigeons have the capacity to learn higher math? This really isn’t that surprising to me after I listened to a TED Talk discussing the brain power of crows; still, the fact that pigeons can ace math tests is pretty awesome, especially considering the fact that many humans—including yours truly—start biting their nails at the mention of the subject.

Teen Girl Invents Better Way to Screen for Breast Cancer

You know how people have to endure painful biopsies to truly identify cancer in their bodies? The winner of the annual Google Science Fair, 17-year-old Brittany Wenger, has created a much easier, less painful computer program to help doctors identify cancer. And guess what? She did it completely on her own, completely self-taught, with 7.6 million trials and 600 hours of coding! Talk about a modern Edison. See, this is why we need failure—so we can keep moving forward!

Learn a Language in 90 Days!

Don’t believe me? Try it. If it works, post about it!

New Palestinian Mayor is a Teenage Girl

Okay, Bashaer Othman is only going to be mayor for two months, but this is an incredible act of trust and empowerment for youth; I hope more cities and countries copy this example. Our kids really do need to learn how to run the world they are inheriting, especially since… Wait, I promised only good news here!

Getting Dirty is Healthy

New studies show that girls who play outside and get dirty on a regular basis grow up healthier, which makes total sense since my immune system sucks and my mom was a neat freak when I was little! My husband and I joke that he grew up healthier because he was practically raised in raw sewage; this may be the truth! So let your kids play in the dirt (as soon as it’s cool enough to do just that) and leave the wet wipes at home. And for goodness’ sake, don’t wipe off the playground equipment before they play!

Cool Summer Drinks

The good news here is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on your favorite fruity summer drinks; instead, you can make some delicious fruit-and-herb drinks of your own. Here are some more tasty, cheap water infusions, and here are some juicing experiments you might want to try.

Traditional dishes for Saint Patty's Day


If you think Ireland is a land of little variety and simple tastes, than think again. The Irish palette has become quite unique and adventurous over the years. This Saint Patty’s Day, try whipping up your own meal using some of the traditional and local specialities of the Emerald Isle. If you’re brave, attempt some of the traditional dishes as well.


Yes it’s stereotypical but it’s also true. Potatoes are a staple and are in most dishes, morning, lunch, and dinner. Typically, mashed potatoes are a good choice, and are superb if served with cabbage and spring onions.



Like the potato, it’ll be rare to see a traditional Irish dish served without meat. Usually lamb, pork, or beef are the favorites. More and more, the Irish are beginning to favor seafood. Now, any most restaurants, especially in the west, fresh seafood is the best menu choice. Oysters on-the-half-shell are a common delicacy, along with salmon and trout. 


Soda Bread

The most infamous bread in Ireland is Soda Bread. It’s been named as such because in the 19th century bakers substituted yeast with bicarbonate soda because Irish flour didn’t rise accordingly. Nowadays, soda bread is a common side on breakfast menus.


Traditional Dishes:


Black pudding: Maybe you should just try this first before I tell you what it is. It’s made from congealed pork’s blood, suet (yes, what birds eat) and other mysterious fillings. It’s a common find on breakfast menus.


Boxty: This Northern treat is a small box shaped cake made from half mashed potatoes and half strained and raw potatoes. More and more, boxties are served with garnishes or other fillings to add some flavor. They make a great small bite or appetizer.


Corned beef tongue: So many people will be sitting down to corned beef and cabbage this Saint Patrick’s Day, but only those in the know will be eating corned beef tongue. 



Staying a couple while traveling abroad


As I watched the latest episode of the Amazing Race, I kept asking myself “how do these couples stay together under the stress that inevitably comes with traveling around the world”? So far, I’ve been in China for two weeks with my better half, and I have seen first hand how a relationship transitions and evolves while traveling in foreign lands. It’s challenging enough for me to navigate myself and satisfy my own needs (which have become basically the needs of an infant, food, shelter, and clothing) through China. I’ve also had to become extra conscientious that my loved one is taken care of also and is happy and enjoying our time abroad. Sometimes it’s a difficult balance to maintain. However, there are a few tips to keep in mind that will allow any couple to survive the ultimate relationship challenge that is “international traveling”.


When we first touched down in Beijing and realized we both, missed our connecting flight and needed to find a hotel (in a country we’ve never been before) I began to lose my cool. A quick argument ensued about what to do next and instead of us taking on roles that we were comfortable with in the states and resolving the situation calmly, we lost all sense of control. The most important thing when traveling abroad is to maintain and understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses. I may be more bold when it comes to speaking Chinese (a language we have barely any grasp of) but my girl friend is much better at budgeting and doing the mental math needed to purchase fruits and order meals. We recognize these strengths in each other and appreciate them in order to get by.


Queen/King for a day

Instead of arguing over seeing one site over the other, take turns being the king or queen for the day. Say every even day of the month you will make the decisions about where to eat and what to see. The odd days, your partner gets say. Both parties appeased!


When to be a couple and when to be simply world travelers

There’s something to be said about traveling with your significant other. You automatically feel safer and more comfortable to explore and see the culture and sites of a given region and you get to share this experience with the one you love. However, it’s also good to be independent and venture out by yourself and test your limits and see how capable you really are in vulnerable and foreign situations. I usually venture out daily to a new shop or restaurant, practice my Chinese, and try and be bold on my own. Also, be open to invite fellow travelers to dinner and make new friends and hear great stories about their travels. Don’t be one of those isolated couples!

If you need some reasons to travel around the are a few


Turn those potentially depressing and long periods in your life into the greatest adventure of your life. Here are several reasons to break free and go on a trip around the world.

College what?

That gap year right out of undergraduate is the perfect time to plan a trip around the world. This may be the most opportune time in your life when you have little or no obligations holding you back. Of course you also probably don’t have a lot of cash for such an extended trip so be wise about your travel plans. Hey, you could even get a research grant or fellowship and justify flying around the world by doing a little extra school work which also helps fund the trip. Also, WOOFing and voluntourism is a great way to work your way around the world and receive accommodations and food in return.


Beat the break-up blues

So it may be true that time heals all wounds. But if you don’t have a lot of time to sit and dwell on that failed relationship, maybe distance is the next best thing for curing your sorrows. I don’t mean for you to go all Eat, Pray, Love and find the next partner while on your travels but you’ll regain your independence and re-discover just how strong you are by discovering the world.


Opposite of GAP year

Retirement is the opposite of your gap year out of college because hopefully at this point in your life you have some funds to help make your trip that much more memorable. Also for those that don’t want to take the extra step and plan every last detail, there are plenty of itineraries that are guided by professionals and target older travelers.



The other alternative is to travel the world with a conscious focus. The new rage is volunteerism and there are plenty of small businesses and individuals that need the extra helping hand. Most are generous and hospitable hosts and are willing to feed and give you a place to rest at night. You’ll work hard but you’ll also appreciate the adventure much more.


Need more justification for traveling around the world? See here.



"Burning Man" in the midwest


Every summer, thousands of die hard hippies, artists and civilians alike gather in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada and camp out for a week long festival called Burning Man, which combines art, drugs, partying, and bartering in place of a strict “no money” rule. But now, Nevada has a new contender.

There’s a new Burning Man-esque festival taking the mid west by storm. Minnesota is well known as the land of 10,000 lakes. In winter months, it’s typical to see a few shanties set up on lakes where men hunker down and ice fish. However, on Medicine Lake in January it’s not unusual to see upwards of twenty of these makeshift shanties sitting atop the ice. And inside there’s more than a cold man, a fishing pole, and heaters. Now, these ices shanties have been transformed into art galleries and dance clubs.


The festival is called Art Shanty Projects, and although it’s only 15 degrees out, that hasn’t stopped almost 10,000 people from traveling near and far to experience this unusual style of art walk. The festival has been an annual tradition since 2004 and was co-founded by Peter Thompson, who wanted to stretch people’s conceptions about art galleries beyond their traditional and sometimes stifling settings. Participating artists seem to enjoy the relationships between audience members and themselves as the boundaries have been changed in such a way that conversations between people seems to freely flow. Much like Burning Man, the spirit is free and meant to be welcoming to all.


Although the festival is wrapping up this weekend, I would recommend getting an early jump on the activities next year. 



Understand the Chinese New Year

"Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in Chinese culture"


Monday, January 2rd was the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year and before you start cooking up chow mein noodles and lighting off fireworks you should know a bit about the history of this important holiday.

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in Chinese culture. Today, January 23rd, around a quarter of the world’s population will celebrate the year of the dragon. Although the People’s Republic of China follows the same gregorian calendar as western nations, the ancient Chinese calendar is still used to calculate festivals.


The Chinese calendar was first created in 2637 B.C.E. under the rule of Emperor Huang Di. A complete calendar cycle consists of sixty years which are broken up in to five twelve year cycles. The 78th sixty year cycle began in 1984 and will end in the year 2044, ringing in a new millennium.


So while we Westerners are just getting used to the year 2012, the ancient Chinese calendar is welcoming the 4710.


And since the calendar was invented around astronomical events, each year was named to correspond with the twelve zodiac signs. While many fear that 2012 marks the end of times, Chinese see 2012 as the year of the dragon and as such, this is a particularly lucky year. The dragon is believed to be one of the most powerful animals in the zodiac and many hope that this power will protect them and bring them blessings in 2012. I sure hope the dragon can save us from another year of financial sorrows. We shall see. Happy New Years!


Experiences of traveling the world. Move, eat, and learn


There’s no doubt that traveling the world can be one of the single greatest experiences of one’s life. Director Rick Meriki, along with his two buddies, has created 3 short videos that capture some of the greatest parts about traveling. Each movie is entitled “move”, “eat”, and “learn” and motivates the viewer to get up off their couch and join in the adventure.

The three short films are each about one minute long. They were commissioned by STA Travel Australia and span 11 countries in just 44 days. The videos are fast paced so viewers must watch them a few times in order to truly appreciate the beautiful environments and see the cultures, locations, and images of each country. 


The fast-paced movements of one man’s journey through the world, and the simplistic piano music set in the background is reminiscent of the groundbreaking video “where the hell is Matt?” released in 2008. “Where the hell is Matt?” gained 41 million views after going viral on YouTube. The “move”, “eat”, “learn” videos are not gaining as much steam as the former but I hope more and more will be inspired by these short films and start to think about the own adventures they could create through travel.


These videos really get their viewers excited to explore the cultures, tastes, and traditions from around the world. I’ve posted a link to all three “move”, “eat”, and “learn” videos below. The films are exhilarating and moving. Also, watch out,  the clips from “eat” will make you hungry.





Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year with these 8 traditions



The Chinese Lunar New Year is just around the corner and Chinese everywhere will be ringing in the year of the dragon with a number of traditional practices. The dragon is a special zodiac sign and this year brings with it extra luck and power for China. Ring in the new year the proper way following these eight timeless traditions (8 is a lucky number btw).

New wardrobe:

Here’s your excuse to go out buy that new outfit you’ve had you’re eyes on. Preferably purchase a clothes item with red in it and welcome the New Year in style.



Don’t stop with just a new outfit. You need to update your entire look. This includes getting a trim. But be sure not to cut your hair for a month after as this signifies cutting away your prosperity.


Money pancakes:

It’s customary for married couples and bosses to buy fresh banknotes, stuff them into red “lai see” packets and hand them out to children. These little packets of monetary joy are called red pancakes (red is a good color during the holiday). Be sure not to stuff your packet with any amount with 4 in it as this number is extremely lucky in Chinese culture.



Be sure to buy some firecrackers. The louder the better as they scare away the bad spirits wanting to make your life miserable in the coming year.


Forget spring cleaning. Get on it now:

Out with the old (donate these items to charity) and in with the new. Be sure to also sweep the dust and dirt out the door before New Year’s Day. This symbolizes sweeping out bad luck. However on New Year’s day put your broom outside and out of sight. You don’t want to accidentally sweep out all that good luck do you?


Decorate the home

Be sure to bring in red and gold colors into your home. A bowl of oranges or mandarins is a traditional item. Also, double check that your furniture’s feng shui is in proper position as this diverts money through your door and into your pockets.


New Year’s with the family:

The first 2 days of New Year are supposed to be spent with family and friends while the third day is meant to be spent in your home relaxing and reflecting.


Eat lucky food:

Chinese typically cook huge feasts during the New Year. They gorge themselves on “lucky” foods like fish, chicken, roast pork, moss, rice cakes, and dumplings. These food items are supposed to make you feel wealthy as you stuff yourself.


Scaling the Tower of Hercules

Climbing this historical site was one of the top ten moments of my far.

From the outside, the Tower of Hercules, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Monument of Spain, may not look like such a climb, but the people inside will tell you differently. The stone steps of the oldest Roman lighthouse in use today are wide and numerous, and it takes real work to climb them. If you are already a seasoned mountain climber or generally fit person, it may not be so bad—but to the average Joe (including the party I was with), it’s a bit of a challenge.

Like many challenges, however, the challenge is well worth it. Yes, your legs are burning by the time you get there. Yes, you might have to make a stop or two on the way. But when you stand up at the top of that lighthouse and feel that ocean on your face—crazy strong and wild, blowing your hair so hard it feels like it may just leave your head—and you see that incredible Atlantic Ocean view, you know that the whole climb was worth these few minutes of billowing bliss.

When you step back inside the Tower, you’ll notice that your hair—if you have more than a buzz cut, that is—is completely in knots. Mine was secured back in clips and my friends’ were in ponytails, yet we all had complete rats’ nests, as my mom used to call them, on our heads. It took us all quite a while to untangle our hair.

I fell in love with the ocean at the Tower, where a good friend of mine and I walked down to the beach, despite the cold, and saw water as far as you could see. It was sort of funny, since his feet got wet and he decided to curse at the ocean—being British, he’d seen it already and I suppose it wasn’t as awesome to him—but I will always remember the feel of the ocean on my face, the burst of the wind after that long, long climb, and the smell of that salty sea air. I really hope to take my daughter there one day.

The entire area of Coruna and Galicia in general is gorgeous and not to be missed. Santiago de Compostela, for example, is in the area, and the beautiful pilgrimage site is also home to the world’s largest incense burner. You’ll find the typical tourist attractions, like live painted statues and beautiful music played at night in the streets, but you’ll also find some really delicious local fare, ruins to see, and so much more. If you are heading to Spain, Galicia should definitely be on your list of places to visit—with the Tower of Hercules at both your metaphorical and literal top!