Monday, June 26, 2006

Vacation in the Northeast - Ron's first post

Our trip to the America's 'far east' was fun, fruitful, and exhausting.

Our intent was to discern whether we could imagine living life in these cities, should we apply to graduate school in the time and manner we hope to. Of course, we also wanted a fun vacation, and a chance to see some people that matter and places that fascinate. We were successful on all counts.

We began our adventure with an early flight to Philadelphia (we slept for most of it). With only 24 hours to canvass the city, we hit the ground running. We were instantly thankful for the seamless transportation system; we just hopped the subway from the airport, right into university village. We walked a few blocks to our hotel, discovered that it was much nicer than we had expected, and settled in.

We explored the area thoroughly, and were pleasantly surprised to see that we liked Philadelphia. We weren’t thrilled with it, but we liked it. In the morning we scoured the historic area, including Penn’s landing and Independence Hall, and then we walked through downtown on our way back to pick up our stuff. We jumped a train in the cavernous Corinthian train station, and after a transfer in New York City, disembarked in Poughkeepsie, NY.

There we were the recipients of the Angell family’s overwhelming hospitality. Sarah Angell, oldest of 8 siblings, and dear friend of Trina’s, grew up on Bentley Farm. She and her siblings showed us much love, and her parents provided a wonderful place to stay, engaging conversation, and lots of food. One of the many highlights of our time on and near the farm, was a relaxing afternoon lounging down by the Hudson River, at the bottom of a large grassy hill that rolled down from some rich industrialist’s sprawling mansion.

After too little time with Sarah and her family, we headed for the antithesis of Bentley Farm, New York City. Serenity, seasonality and homogeneity (the acorn doesn’t fall far) were replaced by the adrenal, nonstop and diverse districts of the Big Apple.

We dove in headfirst. We stayed in an Embassy Suites with a beautiful bay view, and spent our first two days scouring the business district and its surroundings. We payed our respects to those who died in the terrorist bombings of the World Trade center, as well as grieving the proliferation of violence caused by the outrage over the terrorist act. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for a breathtaking view of the altered skyline; we watched multitudes and their multitudinous personas as they crowded in around us.

We also spent a couple nights overlooking Times Square, with a direct and expansive view of the jumbotron billboard sort of signs you see as the quintessence of Times Square. At night they were so bright that they literally fully lit the air around, including our room (good thing there were multiple layers of thick curtains).

All in all we saw New York University (and fell in love with Greenwich Village—pronounced Grenich, go figure), Columbia, and Fordham, and their surrounding areas. We spent time in, and ate in, Little Italy, and we enjoyed walking through Chinatown, Soho, Central Park, up and down Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, Madision Avenue, and all the surrounding areas. We toured NBC, the UN, and several beautiful churches (we attended part of a Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral), and we saw the Lion King and Stomp. Very fun, and very different. We did wander into an area in the Bronx that was pretty rough, and onto a subway at night that we probably would have thought twice about had we had the choice, but we were no worse for the wear. We also (after two previous attempts) saw the city from the top of the Empire State Building at night.

We were struck by, contrary to popular belief (and our previous experience) how friendly the city was. People in general were polite, and helpful, often offering to help us find places, and suggesting eateries and the like. The only exception (and this extended to all the east coast cities) was the food service people. I (Ron) was also struck by how closely the people sat next to each other in the parks—people who weren’t there together. And of course, the architecture.

By the end, we were very tired. But we had much to do.

Our next stop was New Haven, which we expected to be a dive. And, although it wasn’t the most compelling city we’ve ever seen, it wasn’t bad. Around Yale, it’s had about 350 years to become a college town, and so it has. New Haven boasts an internationally acclaimed arts community, drawing over 2 million people a year to its shows (and there are only about 130,000 residents). Yale was pee your pants exciting, a sort of sprawling gothic castle, with enclosed courtyards and the like. Obviously it’s an intellectual powerhouse as well, and it offers some of the most compelling programs that exist. One highlight was a conversation that Trina had with the head administrator of a program she’d like to be a part of. He spent 45 minutes assuring her that she is, in fact, a compelling candidate (duh) and giving her advice, etc.

After only about five hours in New Haven, we headed to Hartford, Connecticut, where we were picked up by my Grandma Marta (Dad’s step mom, although very much my grandma) and her adult son Greg. Marta moved to old Sturbridge Village (western Massachusetts) just a few years ago, and we have missed her very much. We spent the evening (after an incredible lightning storm) with Marta, at Greg’s exquisite restaurant (Bin 479), where we were treated with first class service, and lots of wonderful wine. Greg is a sommelier, and he did an excellent job of bringing joy to our palette’s and laughter to our conversation (wine will do that). It was a short, but very valuable time we spent with Marta. She has built quite the life in her famously cute town, made many friends, volunteers, is involved in a grandmother’s prayer group, etc. She seems to be doing very well, and it’s a great way for her to be with some of her grandchildren.

Greg’s new restaurant is also quite the success, and after indulging in the cuisine and the ambiance, it was no surprise.

After too little time, Marta and Greg took us to a train station where we hopped a 90 minute commuter rail into Boston. By now, the pace of our trip was starting to catch up with Trina, and she was clearly getting sick. We were worried that would spoil her experience, but it did not.

We started by hopping the subway to Harvard Square, where Ron again peed his pants. What an incredible place, so full of history, meaning and admittedly, power and elitism. No wonder he (I) loved it! We also explored the area around Harvard (which is actually in Cambridge, across the river from Boston), which was very much the kind of place one would like to live. We also saw MIT and Boston University, which were very different from each other or anywhere else we had been, and both of which were compelling institutions.

Eventually, we met up with our good friends Matt and Marilee Mickleson (or Mickleson-Jolin, or Micklesolin, or Joleson, or whatever). We had dinner and then went back to their house, for a long and fun catch up conversation. We also met their dog, who has become quite the important family member, and we greeted with many loving dog kisses. I am a bit more used to that than Trina is.

Since Trina was getting sick, it was pouring down rain and since it was her 25th birthday (Happy Birthday Trina!) we took it easy the next day, despite the fact that that was to be our tour day. Matt and Marilee made Matt’s family’s traditional crepes for Trina, and we took our time getting out and about. Eventually, we found our way around Boston’s freedom trail, which includes the Old North Church, Old Ironsides and Bunker Hill. We saw many historical sites, but it was rainy, so we saw them quickly.

We did take time to see Northeastern, where Marilee will begin her Sociology Ph.D. in the fall. Matt will be at MIT. They provided a good example of what kind of living situation we are imagining ourselves in.

We met up with Tim Williams, another George Fox friend, and saw his apartment on Beacon Hill. His neighbors include John Kerry, who has a 15+ million dollar dwelling there. Harder to feel sorry for him about the big loss! We had dinner at Cheers, the bar that inspired the classic show, and did a little more touring, and then went ‘home’ and stayed up late again, talking into the night with Matt and Marilee. We slept and awoke the following morning, took as much time as we could, and then headed to the airport, for a fairly pleasant ride home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Three Peas Reunion!

Just two weeks after getting home from the east coast, I headed out on a long-planned trip to southern California for a three peas reunion! Both Sarah & I flew into the Ontario airport. It was Sarah's first time in Southern California (she lives in NY). We talked late into the night every night. Friday we attended class with Kristiane (she's a med student) and then hid out in her house to escape the blistering heat of the day. That evening, she invited a whole bunch of friends over to meet us and we gorged ourselves on ice cream sundaes. Saturday morning (my birthday reprise), they woke me up with Kristiane's wheat berry pancakes - SO GOOD. After some gifts, we packed up and headed to the beach. We spent the day at Laguna Beach. Actually a small beach just south of the town called Thousand Steps Beach. Pictures do not do it justice...but here's a photo of the stairs heading down to the beach...along with a shot of us at the end of the day...we stayed until almost dark. We spent hours playing in the waves, laying in the sun...just hanging out. We finished the day at Ruby's for an excellent dinner. Sunday was a whir of packing, eating and trying not to be sad to leave each other. The time was too short, but so good. The other photo is of the three of us on Kristiane's hammock, right before leaving for the airport.