Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Productive Weekend

I had a productive weekend for sure. Babysitting filled my evenings and my days. I am officially back from my travels and back to the 'real' world. Time to make some money, I guess. I babysat three different families this weekend and they were all very different. One has five kids, another has three boys and the other has two boys. I had my hands full, but enjoyed every minuet of it (well, almost every). Thankfully I love kids. I had so much fun rolling around with them, hearing them laugh. I even have a rug-burned elbow to show for it. Thanks kiddos.

This week I am busy babysitting nearly everyday, too. I am excited about this and hope that I say the same at the end of week.

With school in full swing, homework is beginning to pile up as well as 'to do' lists. I will attempt to tackle both in a timely manner. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Emotional State

Boredom is an emotional state experienced during periods lacking activity or when individuals are uninterested in the activities presented to them, according to wikipedia. Thank you wiki for explaining this emotional state that I find myself in.

I am trying extremely hard to fill my days. Today I went to a class that I am not even enrolled in. Now that says something about my emotional or mental state if nothing else. The class had a guest speaker, a KU grad and advertising guru for a company you may have heard of, Budweiser. He showed us commercials that have yet be aired on television and will be released a some football game, the Superbowl I think it's called. That all in all was pretty sweet. The new commercials were laugh out loud funny.

I'm so bored I finished homework last Thursday that is due tomorrow, Tuesday. So, here I am on a Monday with nothing to do. The KU vs. Mizzou game is tonight, which would have been killer to go to, but nope, I'm not. I don't have tickets to any of the games this year. Plus, the University of Kansas may be easy to get into with a low ACT score or minimal high school GPA, but basketball games are a different story. You must play lottery at 6AM on a weekday and then have a team of people who camp out at the field-house. Meaning for a week or so a person from your team must be present in the field-house nearly 24/7. This camping business is outrageous and honestly I just don't get it. I am bitter and with that said, I will know stop talking about KU basketball.

Tomorrow night should hold some excitement. Hopefully I will be meeting Blake Mycoskie, the founder and owner of TOMS SHOES. He is coming to the Lied Center here at KU and I have tickets! That should be semi interesting. A view other famous journalist are visiting this upcoming month. I look forward to meeting some famous people here and there. Blake's blog.

Life in Lawrence... I am hoping will get a bit more lively for me as time goes on, and if not, Italy is just a plane ticket away. Mom, I am kidding. I'm not going anywhere any time soon. (sniffle).

In all seriousness, it has been good to see old friends and catch up. I thought it would be good coming back familiar things after being out of my element for months on end. However, nothing seems familiar. The campus, the buildings, and the people all seem different. The weather is how I remembered it though - awful, but that's about the only thing that seems the same.

This week marks 15 weeks until Finals week. So, that's only 108 days until Summer. I'm sure I can survive. I know I will!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Down Under

Australia was an incredible country. It may be the smallest continent, but it’s the biggest island in the world. You do not realize the size of a country until you visit it. Being American, a three-hour drive to Iowa is nothing. Even an eight-hour trek to Chicago seems decent. I can hop into my car and drive and drive until the gaslight turns on before I really think about how far apart things are in the States. Being in Europe showed me how fast a country’s border can approach without really feeling like you went very far. New Zealand topped everything with its coastline never being more than 128 kilometers away. That country is tiny in comparison to the “West Island,” which is what Kiwis like to call their monstrous neighbor, Australia.

Being educated in America, which is heard to even call it that at times, but anyway, being ‘educated’ in America has proved to be subpar in geographical standing. No offense to America, its education system or any American geography teacher. It is just known that Americans rarely know where things are. Take that ingenious beauty queen’s infamous map question’s answer. Check it out. Thanks, Miss South Carolina, for proving my point and so much more.

I’ll admit I knew nothing about anything before I, on my own, pulled out a world map and started to study it. I did not realize what a massive piece of land Australia is until I really took the time to compare it to the United States. Although Australia’s size is closely comparable to the United States, Australia only has 7% of the US population. That means millions more people live in the state of Texas than in all of Australia. The population of New York is more comparable. It is one big country and I only touched a bit of it. I can’t wait to go back and explore all that Australia has to offer. G’Day Mate.

Thanks for the visual comparison.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Day of Classes

First day of class: uncertain how I feel about this. There is this new feeling of excitement to be back to the world of college, but it is also accompanied by the realization that my life is now about due dates and exams.

8AM could not have come any earlier. I had one of those nights where I kept waking up in a slight panic because in the back of my head all I could imagine was over sleeping on the first day. So, I woke up at 2AM to the sound of girls coming in and then again at 5:20 thinking it was 8AM. Then finally the sound of Jack Johnson singing “Better Together” from my Blackberry’s alarm woke me up for good.

Surprisingly, Kansas decided to warm up a bit to a whooping 30+ degrees. It almost felt nice as I walked to class – almost.

Class was class. You sit there and you tell yourself you are listening. Heck, I even took some notes, but really all I was thinking was, “When is this going to be over?” The class may have ended at promptly ten ‘til nine like it is supposed to, but the class has definitely just begun.

There are exactly one hundred and twenty days until the last day of finals, May 14th. Yes, I counted and I will continue counting until it is in fact May 14th, 2010. Until then you can find me walking to and from class pretending to be excited about homework assignments and to do’s.

This is the view from my old dorm room. I love Lawrence and KU's campus, but I do wish the snow would leave.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Delta Voucher Experience

Written on December 29, 2009

What a turn of events. I’ve been trying to get home from Miami via Atlanta nearly all day. It’s 8PM and I’m on a plane from Atlanta to Kansas City—finally. I was schedule to leave ATL at 3:15. However Delta overbooked the flight and asked for volunteers to stay back and catch a 4:30 flight. I nearly ran over old ladies to volunteer after the mention of free flight vouchers. I jumped over suitcases and hurried my way to the boarding counter to be the first volunteer on the list. Another eager gentleman was behind me and the man behind that was none other than my father. We hear “free” and we are pushing over the elder to get some. Like father like daughter. However, as the saying goes, “Nothing in life is free,” and this voucher ordeal was no different.

After the whole excitement of being the first volunteer on the list, the boarding agent told me to board the plane. I followed my family onto the plane because turns out there were seats for us and I would not be needed as a volunteer. As we walked on the plane, one person said, “It’s full,” while another flight attendant would say, “Oh, here’s a seat.” It was a roller coaster of emotions. First, I was pleased to be waiting behind in Atlanta in hopes of getting some vouchers. Then, I was happy to simply be boarding and returning home.

Finally, after what seemed like a game of musical chairs, my father sat in what was to be the last available seat. Then as I was saying goodbye to parents, the flight attendant found an open seat next to an unhappy lady with a really unhappy baby sitting on her lap. I told the flight attendant half jokingly, “Oh come on, I don’t even want to be going to Kansas City. I want to fly to Michigan.” She just looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you just say so!” Then before I knew it – it was discussed that the mother of the child purchased a seat for that baby, which I highly doubt that to be true, but I didn’t stick around to find out. I was out of the plane without hesitation and a quick farewell to my, who flew up and away to Kansas City leaving me alone in the Atlanta airport. I skipped off the plane and patiently waited at the boarding desk for the Delta employee to return to give me some well-earned vouchers.

So, yes my family left me at the Atlanta airport alone to figure things out and make it to Kansas City on my own. A few days after this whole ordeal, I asked my dad what he thought as I stepped off the plane and if he had worried about me. His answer was simply, “Nope.” I guess he thinks I have had enough travel experience to handle myself in most situations. Heck, my dad said he could imagine me calling him that evening telling him that I had been put up into a hotel near the airport and would be catching a morning flight to Grand Rapids. I laugh at this, but his imagination probably isn’t that far off. At this point, nothing is out of the question and I’m lucky to have a family that fully trusts me to know how to take care of myself. And take care of myself is exactly what I did that day in Atlanta.

The Delta employee, Mer, met me at the boarding desk with a smile after my parents plane departed. She knew I wanted to fly to Grand Rapids instead of Kansas City. Now, you may ask “Why on earth would I want to fly to Michigan in the middle of winter?” Good Question. I have a good answer: work crew reunion. Friends that I had made at a summer camp in 2007 were getting together in Grand Rapids to bring in the New Year, and I wanted to be there with them to celebrate. So, at the mention of free flight vouchers, I jumped at the opportunity with Grand Rapids on my mind.

I waited patiently at the boarding desk for my new Delta-employed friend, Mer. She printed me off $200 Delta flight vouchers and a “meal” voucher, as well as a boarding pass for the 4:37 flight to Kansas City.

She knew I wanted to go to GRR and she did try whole-heartedly to get me on a flight from ATL to GRR, but failed miserably due to strict regulations and rules. Rules Smules. Poor me. Mer wasn’t high up enough in the Delta force to send me to Michigan with the press of a button. She was just a lowly Atlanta-based Delta boarding deskie. Boo. She did however advise me to ‘hurry’ to customer service desk in hopes that they could help me get to GRR.

She might as well printed off another $200 voucher then and there because the following events led to yet more vouchers and not because customer service was any help because they were not. They were helpless at best. When I arrived at the customer service desk the line was full of anger passengers who had missed flights or had some sort of God-forsaken problem. There was yelling and cursing. Everyone was upset, and no one was there to help me get to Grand Rapids. I lost hope.

At this point I look at my watch and it reads, “4:22.” Hmm… I knew exactly where I needed to be: the gate to board the 4:37 flight to Kansas City. But sometimes what we know we need to do and what we actually do are two different things. In this instance that too was true. I looked down at my pile of vouchers and what did I see? Well besides the 4:37 boarding pass, which I quickly placed back into my wallet without a second thought. I saw my meal voucher! This only meant one thing: Chilli’s, here I come. Oh, come on, don’t judge me. The gate would be the next stop, but not before I had a warm plate of French fries and chicken crispers boxed and ready to go.

As I ascended the escalator to the restaurant, the rich aroma of greasy burgers surrounded me. All I could picture were French fries pilled high. When I was welcomed with a, “Hi, how may I help you?” I proudly pulled out my meal voucher as if it was a VIP Chilli’s Card. I voiced that I had a meal voucher even thought it was evident to anyone with eyes, especially to this Chilli’s employee, that yes, indeed I did have a meal voucher. Almost with a smirk, I asked, “How much will this baby get me?” This meal voucher I was holding as if it was Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket only amounted to a whopping seven dollars she informed me. The visions of warm chicken crispers exploded into a thousand projectile food particles around me and I was brought to realty that my “meal” voucher was going to get me diddlysquat here at Chilli’s. In a I-just-found-out-Santa-isn’t-real tone, I asked what seven lousy dollars would get me. “Cheesecake,” the employee answered with a slight giggle hoping I wouldn’t reach over the counter with both hands and violently choke her for mentioning such an irate sugar-filled suggestion. Lucky for her, I like cheesecake.

I started to reimage my to-go box without fries and chicken crispers and now with delectable cheesecake. Within minuets, I was holding just that and “running” to my gate. As I approached A30, this eerie feeling filled the air. Oh no, could it be? Had I managed to miss the flight? Oh no, what now? What is a girl to do? Here I am stuck in the Atlanta airport, completely alone. Just me and my cheesecake. My own family, flesh and blood left me in the Atlanta airport to rot. Then just when all hope was lost out comes Biju, an Indian boarding deskie, a.ka. my soon to be new best Delta-employed friend. Possibly a fellow friend of Mer, who knows? He inquisitively looks at me. In the most furious, out of breath, worried tone I could muster, I ask, “Did the plane already depart?” After an obvious yes and a few investigative questions on his part, I had a new boarding pass for a 7:20 flight to Kansas City. This time, first class. Way to go, Biju.

hen being quite the investigator myself, I say with confidence, “Well, Biju,” I use his name in hopes that my directness will get me far. “I was told that a $200 voucher is given if a volunteer waits one to three hours for another connecting flight. Well, being a volunteer an all,” I say with a shrug of the shoulders and uttermost confidence.

I continue, “I do believe that I have missed the flight I was intended to make due to some hold ups at the boarding desk while printing out my vouchers and then again at the customer service desk. I have now passed the three hour window and the 7:10 flight lies outside that, which to me seems as though I should be given…” hesitation helps, I thought at the time, adding dramatic effect, of course, “…more vouchers.”

I end my long exasperated story with a sigh and a conniving smile, which at the time I’m sure I thought came off as innocent and hopeful. Biju was not impressed by my insightful display of Delta policy knowledge and showed no mercy. He simply told me to return to the agent that mentioned such a thing. I did just that.

Mer was happy to see me again, I’m sure. Well not really, but this is my story, so she was happy to see me and even welcomed me with a hug (also not exactly true, but like I said, my story). She must have been happy because I told her my sob story of the near violent passengers at the customer service and the tragic missed flight with obviously no mention of the cheesecake. After hearing such things, the printer started up again and out came $200 more Delta vouchers. Cha-ching! I cheerfully bid farewell to Mer accompanied with $400 Delta vouchers, a first-class ticket to Kansas City and of course, my cheesecake. With a little hop in my step I returned to the customer service desk, which was still being bombarded with angry Delta customers wanting simply to be served—what a concept. I ignored the cursing customers and held my chin high. I was determined to get to Grand Rapids. I’d use my newly acquired vouchers to get on the earliest flight to GRR and all would be well. After much waiting, as well as some wheeling and dealing, I had done it. Booked for a one o’clock flight the next day from Kansas City to Grand Rapids via Cincinnati. Bam Bam thank you Delta airlines.

Now that that was all sorted, time to celebrate. I had a little over an hour until my flight to KC, so I headed to the nail salon for a well-deserved manicure. Yes, the Atlanta airport has a nail salon and yes I felt as though I deserved a manicure after all that hard work also known as conniving wheeling and dealing. Now this nail salon came complete with message chairs and spa packages available including deep tissue massage and even waxing. I was just in need a manicure and that’s exactly what I got, but not before enjoying my cheesecake while sitting in the best massage chair ever invented.

After a long day of travel, which had started at 4:30am followed by a four hour drive through the Florida keys to the Miami airport and then a flight to Atlanta my body was in all sorts of aches. Thank you ExpresSpa for the best massage chair experience and a lovely manicure to boot. Feeling like a new women, I leisurely made my way to new designated gate. The flight was boarding relatively on time, and I was first to board with my newly cherished first-class ticket and beautiful nails, too. I situated myself amongst the middle-aged businessmen in suits in what I believe to be the biggest airplane seat I have ever sat in.

I settled into my very spacious seat that was large enough to Indian style, which yes, I did. The numerous ways I could position myself for the ultimate comfort was overwhelming. I resumed my place in my book and waited for the perks of first class to add up and oh did they.

First, I was provided with a personal pillow and blanket. I always wondered why they call them “personal” pillow and blanket. It’s not like I’m going to share them with old man baldy next to me, so of course they are personal. They should really call it what it is—an insignificantly sized flat pillow made from the most uncomfortable combinations of fabrics. If there are fabrics out there more unpleasant than that of this pillow, I hope they never come in contact with my skin. As for the blanket, it had more static electricity than the hair rising ball at Science City.

Secondly, I ordered a drink, but not before thanking the flight attendant for the “personal” pillow and blanket with an over exaggeration on the word personal and having a little snicker to myself. Before receiving my order of orange juice, an array of snacked including fruit, bags of chips, and even candy bars were neatly aligned in a basket and then offered to me. I choose Sunchips for those of you that are curious.

Now if the personal items and basket of goodies didn’t tell me I was in first class my beverage did. My orange juice, which is often my drink of choice on a plane, came with ice as usual but this time came in a glass. None of this lowly economy class plastic cups business. I’m talking hand blown imported glasses. One may argue that orange juice is orange juice regardless of the cup but no no. Let me inform you that OJ has never tasted so sweet at thirty-thousand feet. Also, as I finished my delectable drink, who was right there to refill it, but my own personal waitress aka the first-class flight attendant. Your hearing me right, I not only enjoyed one glass of OJ out of a real glass, but two. What a flight. Thanks again Biju, for one of the best first-class experiences ever.

So, I was picked up from KCI at 9PM just to return the next day around noon to catch a flight to Grand Rapids. What a story. The morning before, I woke up in my hotel room in Key West, the next day I was headed to meet friends in the State of Michigan. What a turn of events.

Being Home (but not really home)

Arriving in the Kansas City Airport on December 16th was really surreal. The last time I flew in was mid-July. Emily Evans had picked me up to surprise my parents who thought I was still at a music festival in Spain when in reality I had been in D.C. for the past few days.

This time, the weather was colder and my parents were the ones picking me up from the airport. I was welcomed with big hugs, which I needed. It felt really weird to be home, but still it was good to be in a familiar place.

I had just spent the last three months in the Southern Hemisphere and now here I was in Kansas in 30 degrees weather (and that’s Fahrenheit). Brrr. Keep in mind where I was in Australia was nearly 30 degrees Celsius, so switching to 30 Fahrenheit was a little unpleasant.

First thing I did when I got home was threw my rucksack (aka my backpack) on the ground for the last time and I unpacked—unpacked for good. Well until it’s time to pack again that is, which for me is always sooner rather than later. So anyway, I unpacked. I threw every article of clothing in the washing machine. It was amazing. I didn’t have to put quarters in the wash or stay in the laundry room all day. I don’t have to worry about strategically packing my top-loader backpack any time soon. I can put things in their place. Although unfortunately, I don’t even know what that means really anymore. Truly I don’t feel as though things have a place, but I guess now is as good as time as any to put things away.

Seven nearly eight months is a long time to be gone. Plus right before I started traveling I had just moved home from university. Basically my life has been about packing up and unpacking for the past year and a half. Good thing I don’t mind packing all the time. So, for now, I will be putting things away and packing to move into Theta in a few weeks.

I typed this entry into Word shortly after arriving home from Sydney via L.A.. I planned on wrapping up the rest of New Zealand and Australia by blogging like a mad women over break while stationary in Kansas. Well if anyone knows anything about me, they know I am never stationary. Now I may have changed a bit while abroad, but one thing is for sure, that hasn’t changed.

Since leaving Australia on December 11th, I have traveled L.A. until the 16th, returned to Kansas just to leave three days later for the weekend to celebrate Christmas in Iowa on the 19th and 20th. After a weekend in Griswold and Oakland, Iowa, I was in Kansas for a record four consecutive nights at my parents’ house. On Christmas Eve my family including my Grandparents spent the night at a hotel near the KC airport to insure we flew out on time early Christmas morning to Miami, Florida. I spent Christmas Day until the 29th in Key West, FL. After a crazy day in the Atlanta airport trying to get home, I booked a spontaneous flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan where I would spend New Years Eve with some dear friends. On New Years Day I drove to Chicago for two nights. Then I spontaneously bought a train ticket to Buffalo, NY, which is where I am right now as I type the ending to this entry. Currently, I am waiting in the Buffalo Niagara International Airport for my flight to KCI via Baltimore, which will be my first flight of 2010. I wonder if I’ll manage to bet my record of 18 flights for 2009 (that’s not even counting all the connecting flights I took. Meaning in 2009 I took off over 30 times—nuts).

Yes, I have an addiction to being on the move. We will talk about this later. For now, I want to get this posted, so that I can write about my experience with Delta airlines in Atlanta on December 29th.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

North Island Bus

On Friday the 13th of November, I hopped on another Kiwi bus that was touring the North Island. It was here that I made a new group of friends. Our first stop was Mercury Bay, where the beautiful Cathedral Cove is. It was here that we all got to know one another. A friendly game of touch-rugby in the sand was a picturesque way to spend our time on the beach.

Unfortunately, my picture perfect Cathedral Cove photo was ruined by fences and boundaries that blocked off part of the cove warning visitors to stay away due to falling rock. I see “Keep Out” signs and what do I do? An Englishman and I sneak under the fence for a good laugh and a run around. Don’t they know not to tell me to not do something?

Our first night together was a bit sub-par considering the town we stayed in was population: us and us only. Regardless we scuffed up the dance floor and made some ruckus.

The next day was an early one as we made our way to smelly Rotorua. The town literally stinks of sulfuric acid, which is similar to that of a rotten egg. Talk about good times. While every went luging, I had a well-deserved nap at the hostel. Although I was sad to miss out on a good luck it was a good thing I was rested up for that night.

We had our Maori culture night dinner that evening. This night was one of my favorite memories of the trip. The Maoris are native aborigines people of New Zealand. Their history is something to be treasured and retold for generations to come or so I was told and paid big bucks to hear about. I could write a whole entry about their culture and history, but let’s be honest, no one wants to read that. The night was unforgettable though. We watched their war dances and they entertained us for hours with their stories, dances, and interesting displays of their history. Then the best part was dinner. Yum. Picture forty hungry backpackers being offered an all-you-can-eat-buffet style dinner complete with dessert. We were oinkers, pigs, and basically eat like savages. Picture what it was like when cave men were first introduced to silverware and that was us. I was surprised I didn’t witness people licking their plates. That is how wonderful every bite was. I discovered I love oysters amongst over delectable dishes.

The Maori people prepare the food from fire in these pits. I’d go into detail, but I honestly struggled to pay any attention to what they were saying as an array of deserts sat in front of me. Americans, picture how you feel mid-day on Thanksgiving after consuming half your body weight and mistakenly eating three helpings when the first one definitely was enough. That’s about right how we all felt after this meal.

This is our chief, Ash, and our bus driving doing the Hongi, a way of welcoming one another by pushing your noses together twice.

The bus ride back to the hostel was just as entertaining. The driver had a song for every one of us on the bus. He had memorized all of our names and what country we were from. He then sang a song for each country. Of course, he saved the best for last, and yes, an American would think this.

“Now, Sarah from America, this is for you,” he announced as he began to sing the lyrics to “She’s be coming around the mountain.” The funny thing wasn’t the song that he choose, but the fact that we had approached a roundabout and he continued to drive around and around and around the roundabout until the whole bus begin to chuckle. This guy was good at what he did. Every person on the bus felt special and important due to the fact he remembered our names and sang us all a song. The fact that we were all in food comatose helped, too. All in all it was an amazing night full of culture and fun.

Next stop: Taupo.

Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake. The views are amazing. The view from 15,000 feet is probably even better. But unfortunately, I did not sky dive Taupo. It wasn’t in the budget this time around.

I arrived in Taupo mid-day with our small Kiwi Bus. My new travel buddy, Charlotte and I headed to the natural hot springs. They aren’t kidding either. These babies are hot. Natural springs are basically natural hot tubs that run down waterfalls into a pool of water. They are beautiful. We had a relaxing day in the hot springs. Then what better way to end the day, but with a quiz bowl at Mulligan’s Irish pub.
Early the next day we headed back to Auckland. It was a weird feeling t return to the city that it all started in, and it was sad to know that I had to say goodbye yet again to friends that I had made. Paddy was off to South America to volunteer with sea turtle conservation. Jen was flying to the “West Island,” also known as Australia, to caravan with friends. Dan was home to Devon, England.

The next morning I was to hop on yet another Kiwi bus full of travelers like myself. We would travel the North Island and see what we would see.