Three Reasons I Hate iPhones

Okay, I admit it, I’ve always been late to the technology game. I didn’t get a cell phone until after college (and I graduated in 2003) and I still have your basic flip phone, where if I want to send a text and the word I want to write starts with, say, “C,” I have to press the 2 button three times to get that C. I have a Twitter account, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to post on it. I read other people’s posts, and I think, “Huh. I didn’t realize that was worth sharing.” Same goes with Facebook, where I maybe update my own status twice a week and where I’ve hidden a good portion of my so-called friends because their posts annoy the bejeezus out of me. Clearly I am not a technology geek. I admit it. But I’m not going to apologize for it. No, sirree. Instead, I’m going to tell you flat out why I hate iPhones. And Droids. And Blackberries. And every single other smartphone out there. Because I have good reasons, I swear. And because, well, I’m a curmudgeon, and I’m not afraid to admit that either.

So, without further ado, the three reasons I hate iPhones.

1. We’re losing our ability to socialize with the people right in front of us.
Admit it, you’ve gone out to dinner or to the bar with friends, and at least one person in your group spends more time on their phone (texting, checking Facebook, Tweeting) with someone not there than with you. Or you check in to a hostel, go to the common room, and find it completely silent as everyone uses their smartphone to update their website, get suggestions on where to eat from Twitter, or chat with their friends back at home. Or you’re sitting at the airport waiting for your delayed flight to take off, and instead of talking to you, your traveling partner turns on his smartphone and plays Scrabble against the computer. Once upon a time, we used to talk to people live and in person, not just through clever 140 character posts or via comments or through iPhone video chat. Once upon a time, instead of asking the Internet, we asked people at our hostel where they had been and what they’d recommend; we asked the lady at the corner how to get where we were going; we asked the local person next to us on the subway where they’d suggest going for dinner. Once upon a time, when we left our house and our computer behind, we were *gasp* on our own. And guess what? We did just fine.

2.We know everything, but we don’t talk about anything.
You’re at the bar, and a song comes on that you know but you can’t remember who sings it. Used to be that you’d talk it over with your friends, remembering the first time you heard it, or how it came on the radio while you were on that date with that girl and it seemed perfect. Eventually the artist comes to someone, who blurts it out, and you all nod and smile, and say “Yeah, that’s right.” But it wasn’t just about the artist. It was about everything else that song somehow contained. Now, ten beats in, we’ve typed the lyrics into our phone and we’ve got the artist. Conversation over. As I heard said recently, smartphones have absolutely killed bar arguments. As soon as there is a disagreement or even a question, everyone’s on their phone, and the discussion is settled before it can actually become a discussion. We all now *know* a hundred million things (i.e. the Bing commercials), but I’m not sure we’re really knowledgeable about anything. As multiple studies have shown, all our multitasking is changing the way we think, and it’s not in a way that’s increasing our IQs.

3. Everything has become the-house-is-on-fire important.
The smartphone vibrates. Incoming message. Must check now. Oh look, my brother just updated his status on Facebook. He just saw M.C. Hammer walking down the street. Isn’t that awesome? Isn’t your life so much better because you know that, and because you know it now, and not in two hours when you go home and get on your computer? Ohh, another vibration. Email from my mom. She wants me to forward her my Christmas flight info when I get a chance. Better do it now, even though Christmas is 273 days away. Let me do a quick search through my email, type her a short note, and send it. Won’t take but a minute. Ohh, something else. A tweet from that guy who writes that one blog that I read one time. He wants me to vote for his photo, so he can win a free trip to the moon. Just give me one sec while I do that, and then we can order dinner. Seriously, people? Seriously. Let me be clear. You are not that important. The world will not end if you fail to respond to a message within the first ten seconds of receiving it.  Get over yourself. Please. And thank you.

There you go. That’s what I have to say. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong. I’m used to hearing it. (But don’t think you’re going to change my mind.)

Not a Drop to Drink: Blog Action Day 2010

On our travels, we’ve seen more times than I can count people carrying water in canisters atop their head. Usually the people we see are women or children, some so small that the jugs they carry are almost as big as them. Sometimes they don’t have to walk far with their load, just from the village well to their home. Other times they have to walk miles—literally, miles—with these heavy containers of water. It’s also not unusual for us to see women squatting aside a stream, their laundry laid out on nearby rocks, or to see children taking a bath in the river.

It makes for good photos, but it makes for a terrible reality.

The horrible truth of our world is that an enormous number of people in our world do not have access to clean, safe water. Unlike me, they can’t turn on the faucet and take a sip. Some because they don’t have the luxury of running water; others because the water that comes out of their faucets is contaminated. Ice makers, washing machines, yard sprinklers, daily showers, and swimming pools are fantasies, not only because many of the world’s people can’t afford them, but because even if they could, they’d be useless without the water to power them.

Did you know that 38,000 children under the age of five die each week due to consumption of contaminated water? That two million tons of human waste are disposed in water sources every single day? That African women spend a collective 40 billion hours each year carrying water, much of which is still not safe to drink?

And here we are in America, turning our backs on the perfectly wonderful water we have coming right out of our faucets to buy bottled water. How ridiculous we are. How frivolous we are. How unbelievably privileged we are.

Access to clean water is not currently a right for all people in our world, but it should be. Really, if you sit a minute and think about it, you’ll be astounded. This isn’t world peace we’re asking for. It’s clean water–something we already know how to obtain, something that is absolutely 100% vital to life. So today, on Blog Action Day, I ask you to take action. I challenge you to take the money that you spend on bottled water—or other frivolities—and donate it to organizations such as or Charity: Water. This is a problem that we can solve.

Yellowstone: Day 3 and 4

As promised for three days ago, here are some of our favorite pictures of our last two days in Yellowstone and the Tetons. Words just can’t really describe all there was to see, so I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Yellowstone in Pictures (Day 1 and 2)

Well, according to this blog, it took us multiple weeks to get into Yellowstone. We apologize for way this blog has gone the last few weeks, but it’s just another casualty of a very busy schedule. It’s pretty amazing how life is busier when you’re at home as opposed to constantly traveling. So we’re gonna go full photoblog and share a gallery of photos from our first two days in Yellowstone. We’ll have the last two days in another two days.

Road Trip: The Long Road to Yellowstone

These posts have been a long time coming, but here we go. A few weeks ago, myself, Theresa and her two brothers, Greg and Mark, embarked from Chicago avoiding Interstates on a ten day journey to Yellowstone and back. This is that story.

Even though I spent my formative years less than 10 hours away, as a child, I never went to Yellowstone. I suppose that happens when you play a baseball doubleheader every weekend during the summer. But I never really resented missing it until I found myself there. And wondering why in the world I didn’t come sooner. We spent a year traveling to some of the most exotic and distant places in the world, but I hadn’t even been to one of the most exotic right in my own backyard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s a long way from Chicago to Yellowstone, and landing in Chicago, I knew we had three days in the car before arriving at America’s first National Park. The roads started off busy and slow as we plodded our way through the Chicago suburbs, which last all the way to the Wisconsin border. We stopped for an Amish farmers market in Viroqua, Wisconsin, and found some great cinnamon rolls and bread. For a market in Wisconsin, though, it was decidedly lacking in cheese. We managed to find some in the next town over though, and our breakfast and lunch for the next day or two were complete. And we found these amazing cheesehead hats!


A small wrong turn in Minnesota cost us an hour or so, and by the time we made it to our planned campground in eastern North Dakota, the sun was setting. And though we’d noticed some strong gusts in the car, we hadn’t quite appreciated how fierce the winds across the northern plains can really be. We were met by park rangers that warned us of possible tornados and thunderstorms. Stepping out of the car, the winds told us they weren’t kidding. Maybe this whole camping idea wasn’t so hot after all.

Ever stubborn (and really just more out of any options), we found the most sheltered campsite we could, set up our tents and then cooked up a dinner.

After dinner, certain the thunderstorm was imminent, we retired to the car to wait it out, only to have it skirt by us with hardly a drop of water. Even though it lit up the sky across the plans beautifully, it was sure painful to try to stay up after the whole day of driving. Eventually, at some ridiculous hour, we crashed into our tents, only to be woken up as we always do when camping, at sunrise. Not a particularly restful start to the trip.



Day two started early, but man the state of South Dakota does not change much until you get pretty far west. We drove a straight line for six hours before reaching Wall, SD. For anyone that has ever driven in this area, all the billboards point you here, to Wall Drug. It’s undoubtedly the most famous pharmacy in the country, and these days, a ridiculous tourist attraction in its own right. About ten minutes was all any of us could take, so we headed for the real reason to come the area, the Badlands.

There’s something funny about traveling the world before your own backyard … you tend to reference really far off places to make comparisons. Driving through the Badlands, both Theresa and were commenting on how this looks like Patagonia, and that looks like the Quebrada de Cafayate, ad nauseum. I’m sure Greg and Mark got pretty tired of it, especially as it continued all the way through the Tetons. But, well, those are apt comparisons. It was a really beautiful, scarred landscape, that’s probably best shared in pictures.


We were entertained as we drove by the prarie dogs (or prayin’ dogs as a 5 year old Mark used to call them) and frightened by two rattlesnakes, one in the road, the other (a juvenile) Greg almost stepped on at a turnout! We also got our first look at a wild Buffalo. It was very exciting at the time, but by the end of our trip, after the massive herds and baby buffalo at Yellowstone, they really weren’t worth all of our excitement.


After that, it was on to Mt. Rushmore, thankfully not a long drive away, but via an awesome road, the Iron Mountain highway. It was clearly built before today’s modern interstate routes, because it hairpined up the mountain, followed by loop-de-loops and one lane tunnels back down. It made for a really fun drive, especially in the thick morning fog we set out in. This fog was troublesome as we arrived to Mt. Rushmore, since it made it so we couldn’t see Mt. Rushmore. Fortunately, the clouds soon “thinned” out and we got our view of the giant heads.

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Frankly, I don’t know what to think about Mt. Rushmore. On the one hand, it’s a really impressive accomplishment. It’s absolutely massive, moreso than I’d ever imagined, and the sculptures are very well done. And I sat there thinking that future civilizations, long after we’re gone, are going to look at these giant faces on a mountain and it’ll be reflective of our culture like the Pyramids of Egypt or Angkor Wat. But looking at the “before” and “after” pictures of the mountain, I couldn’t help thinking it looked better before. It just seems like such a silly thing to do to such a nice mountain.


After that it was onward, all the way across the state of Wyoming (with a failed attempt to see Devil’s Tower that was fully thwarted by the fog) to the end of our long road to Yellowstone, our gateway, Cody, Wyoming. And that’s our next starting point.


Bear Creek Reminiscence

I’ve been to five continents and somewhere around 50 countries. I’ve made it to almost every state in the U.S. Yet still, the place pictured below remains one of my favorite places on earth.

This place is Bear Creek Aquatic Camp, a residential summer camp located on the shores of Kentucky Lake and run by the Kentuckiana Girl Scout Council. This past week I was in the area researching lake resorts for the Kentucky guidebook, and when I found myself just a couple of miles away from the camp, I couldn’t resist returning. It’s been nearly 20 years, since the first summer I spent there. I wasn’t sure what I’d find on my return, if perhaps, it were better to let my memories be memories.

But what I found was, largely, what I remembered. Things seemed a bit smaller (perhaps because I’m a bit bigger), and the counselors who were there preparing for the girls who were arriving soon seemed so young (perhaps because I am getting to be old). But the smell of pine that filled the air as you walked from the boating area to the swimming area was still there to tickle my nose. I could almost picture myself inside the still rustic cabins, whispering with friends until we fell asleep mid-thought. At the beach, I missed the trampoline from which we used to bounce into the water (replaced now with a slide for insurance reasons I’m sure), but I recalled the accomplishment of swimming across the bay and back. Running my hands along the multi-colored life jackets strung out between the trees, I remembered learning to sail, getting up on water skis for the first time, and the triumph of finally raising the sail of a windsurfer and going for a ride. At Inspiration Point, it seemed the words of campfire songs hung on the breeze. The lyrics of one of my favorites have stayed with me to this day, a sort of mantra for my life.

“On the loose to climb a mountain, on the loose where I am free. On the loose to live my life the way I think my life should be. For I’ve only got a moment, and a whole world yet to see. I’ll be searching for tomorrow on the loose.”

Bear Creek is a special place, one of those places that, over the course of a few summers, shaped me into the person I am today. It was where I got my first real taste of independence, where I gained confidence and learned to take risks, where I felt what it was like to be free. Nostalgia washed over me as I meandered through the camp. I couldn’t help but yearn to be young again, to be able to spend my summer there, to have the whole world seemingly in my hands. But as I stood at Inspiration Point and looked out across the lake, I hushed those wishes and decided instead just to be thankful for the time I had spent there, to be grateful for the experiences I have had and the person they have helped me become, and to appreciate the fact that one of my favorite places on earth is still there, sharing its magic with generations of girls.

Thanks, Bear Creek. And Happy 30th Birthday. May you have many, many, many more.

Road Tripping

Once upon a time—back when I had enormous octagonal shaped glasses; long, straight, thin hair; and chicken legs (okay, yes, I still have those), in the era when my taste in fashion ran to high waisted jean shorts, cotton tank tops, and Converse cheerleading tennis shoes—my parents loaded me and my three brothers into our red Chevrolet Astro van and drove us from Kentucky to California and back. Our family of six may not have traveled internationally when I was growing up, but travel we did. My sense of adventure is not anomalous; it came honestly.

On the way to California, my dad (and occasionally my mom) piloted us along a northern route. On the way back, we opted for a southern route. We stopped at national parks—Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest. We stopped at tourist traps like Wall Drugs. We bought tacky souvenirs at Stuckey’s, the gas station/convenience store/junk shop located all along the interstate. We had caricatures done in San Francisco, hung out with Mickey at Disney, met Jaws at Universal, and stuck our toes (and only our toes) into the Pacific Ocean. We saw Vegas before it went upscale. We visited family in Los Angeles as well as middle-of-nowhere Arkansas. We turned the van seats so that they faced each other, giving us no leg room but lots of space to play games. And for the most part, we all got along, the only difficulty we all still remember being our youngest brother Mark’s propensity for backwashing into our shared sodas (a ploy, we now believe, to get his own).

On Saturday, I, along with my two younger brothers, Gregory and Mark, and Jeff, set out on a partial recreation of this trip. We’re all meeting in Chicago, where Gregory lives, and from there, we’re traveling to Yellowstone and back, taking the northern route there and the southern route back. In addition to spending four days in Yellowstone, we’ll also be stopping at the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore, sleeping over in Grand Teton, checking out Denver, and stopping at any and all exciting roadside attractions we find along the way. We’ll be camping most of the time, so Internet access is probably going to be limited, but if it’s available, we’ll be updating (both here and on my brother Gregory’s blog) and on our Facebook pages. If we can’t get online, we’ll come back with lots of stories to tell. (Promise, swear, cross my heart, time sucking Kentucky book be damned).

To keep you satisfied until I make it back online, check out the photos below. Good for a daily laugh. Or five million.

What’s Obama Got To Do With It

Have we mentioned before how interesting it was to be abroad when Obama was elected President of the U.S. and to continue traveling through much of his first year in his office?  Have you heard our stories about the Obama grocery stores, the Obama kangas, and the baby gorilla named Obama? Have you wondered at all what it was like to be an American abroad in the midst of Obama-mania?

An article I wrote about the “Obama effect” on travel has just been published in the May edition of Perceptive Travel. Please go check it out and let me know what you think. And while you’re there, take a look at the other articles in this month’s edition as well as previous editions. If, like me, you’ve grown tired of travel magazines and websites that are nothing more than Top 10 lists and service articles, you’ll want to bookmark Perceptive Travel as it features the kind of stories that just don’t make it to print anymore in our short-attention-span society.

P.S. Thanks to my sister-in-law Paulina, who spent last summer in Uganda and helped me out with photos for the article.

Diving into the Dark

Everyone else was on their way to dinner. The boats had come in for the day. Today’s catch was about to land on someone’s dinner plate. The beach had cleared out. But we, well we, were headed toward it, wet suits on, fins in hand. The sun was setting as we climbed aboard our boat and headed out to sea.

When we first learned to dive in the Perhentian Islands last August, I was nervous, not at all certain that I was going to like being meters under the sea, my only oxygen supply attached to my back. But I took to it quickly, finding the experience to be one of tranquility and amazement. I tried to remember that feeling as we skipped over the waves and toward our diving destination. I couldn’t quite convince myself, however, that this experience would be the same. We were going diving in the dark for goodness sakes. And that just seemed insane.

When the motor was killed, my sense of dread grew a bit. This was it. I leaned over the boat to rinse my googles and was greeted by pitch black seas. Usually, when we dive, I can see straight down to where we’re going to be, the clear water providing a preview of the dive. Not this time. Anything could be under the surface. I tried to stifle my overactive imagination, at least remind myself that dangerous sharks don’t populate these waters. I checked my flashlight. It cast a bright beam out over the water. I reminded Jeff that once we were in the water he needed to stay within my reach at all times. I reminded him again. And again.

And then I put on my BCD, tightened the straps, put the regulator in my mouth, perched on the edge of the boat, and backrolled into the dark, dark water. I was in. This was it. We were going night diving. In an instant, Jeff was in along with the other divers. I shined my flashlight toward the bottom and watched as a swath of sea was illuminated. Next thing I knew I was sinking down through the water, following my beam of light toward the bottom. If I turned my head to the side, I saw nothing. The ocean was black as sin. Only where I shined my light or others shined theirs, could I see anything. I was prepared to be completely freaked out. But somehow I wasn’t. My heart was certainly beating faster than on a regular dive. I could literally feel the adrenalin pumping through my veins. But more than frightening, this night dive was exciting.

The sights weren’t bad either. Before we’ve even gotten to our bottom depth, I’m trying to get Jeff’s attention. I’ve spotted an octopus. A giant lobster has come out to feed. A puffer fish floats right into us, blowing up into a giant balloon immediately upon contact, then floating back and forth like a helium balloon that’s been punctured. A squid flashes past us, hardly more than a flash of light in the dark. The best part, however, is when we find a sandy patch where we all sink to our knees. Then we turn out our lights. It’s dark. Completely, utterly, totally dark. But then our instructor begins to splash his hands. Tiny lights fill the water. We join in, each of us splashing the water in front of us. The ocean fills with bioluminescence. It’s amazing. Wondrous. A bit like being in a dark field lit only by lightening bugs. Even at night, the ocean proves to be tranquil.

When our tanks run low, we reluctantly rise to the surface. As soon as our regulators are out of our mouths, we’re talking a hundred miles a minute about how great the dive was. Trepidation has been completely replaced with awe.

I float for a moment in the dark ocean and stare up at the stars and back toward the town. Sometime while we were underwater, 7:03 pm on March 10, had come and gone. I had turned 29 while on my first ever night dive. The last year of my 20s had begun with a bang. I make a silent wish that every year will bring such adventure, that no matter how old I get I won’t quit trying new things, that life will always be filled with wonder.


While in Colombia, we did our Advanced Diver Certification with Aquantis Dive School. The course consisted of two mandatory dives—a navigation dive and a deep (30 meters) dive—as well as three dives of our choice—a night dive, a peak performance buoyancy dive, and a photography dive. The photos below were taken on the deep dive and the photography dive. It was our first time using the underwater casing for our Canon point & shoot. The camera and case worked splendidly. We, as underwater photographers, could use some more practice. Trying to keep steady is tricky. Other factors that influenced the photography include the fact that at 30 m colors begin to disappear. Red is, in fact, completely absent. As part of the dive, we were shown a roma tomato and asked to identify it. None of us could because it was gray! Additionally, and unfortunately, on the photography dive, we faced a somewhat strong current, which made it hard to stay in one place long enough to get a good photo. I should also say that the diving in Colombia, while good, pales in comparison to that in SE Asia. But all in all, we had a fabulous time and are glad we did the course and got to dive Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

King Beds and Jacuzzi Tubs

Staying in the biggest room at one of Kentucky’s most famous inns (Old Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg), complete with four-poster King bed and two-person Jacuzzi tub, is pretty nice. Except, when it’s just you in that big ol’ bed, it’s pretty lonely too. I know, sob, sob. My life is hard.

Anyhow, yes, we have been MIA. Big time. Our apologies. But you see, research for the Kentucky book I’m working on has completely consumed my life, stolen every second and every ounce of energy I have. As for Jeff, well, I took the external hard drive with me to Kentucky, so he doesn’t have access to any of our photos. Oops. Plus he’s been pretty busy himself planting our garden, cutting down overgrown bushes, giving some semblance of organization to the mess that is our front bedroom, and you know, going to work every day.

But I’m going to make every effort to finish up posting about Colombia here in the next week or so. Because soon we’re going to have more stories to share. We’re off to Yellowstone in three weeks!