Sunday, August 13, 2017

An Essay For Gishwhes

This year's Gishwhes (Greatest Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) has just ended. It was another week of crazy scavenger hunting fun. With over 200 items, it was a packed week of finding things, creating things, donating to charities and causes, and spending time with your team of friends and newcomers.

I've shared about past hunts and if you check my Facebook and twitter accounts in the next few days, you will see what our team has accomplished this year. My goal here now, is to share one specific item. An item that took me time to finish and then way less time to post on twitter in the first ever tweet storm on my twitter account.

One of the items was to write a 2,000 word essay about the best way to get pregnant for the 10th time. Yes, the 10th time. That was it, the only instructions and no other information was provided. Being a writer, of course I jumped on this item straight away and starting brain storming ideas for this essay. I hadn't written an essay since my early college days, so I knew I was going to be a bit rusty. But once I settled on what I was going to write, I researched some sources and set to work, writing and formatting. I even used citations to give credit to every borrowed quote, fact, and statistic. This was going to be the best essay about getting pregnant for the 20th time the world had ever seen.

There was a catch though. Once I was finished writing all 2,000 words, I had to post the whole thing on twitter. Now for those who don't know, you send tweets on twitter, tweets that are usually short statements of whatever you want. Short statements consisting of 140 characters. So after I was finished, I went through and split the whole thing up into 140 character chunks and then set about blowing up my twitter feed with a gishwhes-related tweet storm.

I had to submit a picture of the tweet as part of the scavenger hunt, along with a link to the tweet, so that there was proof I had completed the task in order to gain points. Every item is worth points and once you complete them, you submit a photo or a video, in the hopes of gaining the allotted points and maybe even bonus points. So, it was well worth the effort to earn 80-something points.

Now, for those who don't want to spend time scrolling through my twitter feed, here is the essay in it's entirety.

How To Get Pregnant for the 10th Time
Essay by Stefanie Muniz

If someone would come to me to ask about the best way to have a child,my initial reaction would be that they were hitching their horse to the wrong wagon. As a woman who is on the fence about whether to have even one child, I would imagine I am not the right person to ask. But that’s not the question. The question is not about the best way to have a child, and is in fact more along the lines of the best way to get pregnant. This of course triggers my next reaction, which is to quote Prissy, played by Butterfly McQueen, who once said, “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ babies” (Gone with the Wind, 1939). I feel I can relate to that line. Now, I do know a certain extent about child birth and getting pregnant, despite never having been pregnant or being witness to anyone else’s birth. Most people, and certainly most adults, know the basics of pregnancy and giving birth. We have learned about these things throughout our adolescence, from our parents or in school health classes.

So, even though I don’t have any experience with this topic myself, I do have some personal experience from being around friends and family who have been pregnant and have given birth. I am sure I am not alone in that regard. With that in mind, I do not think I would be completely out of the realm for offering advice to someone who is interesting in learning the best way to get pregnant for the 10th time. Yes, getting pregnant for the 10th time and the best way to do so, is indeed the question here today. A third reaction would be expected here, possibly along the lines of, “why would someone with 9 kids want to get pregnant for the 10th time”?! But that’s not my next reaction. I’ve learned not to judge something or someone based on initial gut reactions, in the way we all learn things, by making the mistake of judging people based on a gut reaction or my own preexisting prejudices.

People often make assumptions of people, based on learned behavior from our parents or social settings, which leads us to draw comparisons between ourselves and others. It’s a habit, I myself have been guilty of, which we often must work towards overcoming as part of becoming an adult. If you have a prejudice, it does not automatically make you a bad person. Most people have them and may not even be aware they do, subconscious prejudice, which can seem harmless but lend well to making assumptions. For example, someone chooses not to shop at secondhand stores because they believe secondhand stores have lower quality used items. When in actuality, secondhand stores are great for finding unique items that most of time have only been used/worn once or not at all and are in new condition.

So, what is my point here? It’s simple.Who am I to judge why someone would like to have a 10th child? We do not know their personal life. Even if the person asking is a friend of yours, who are we to judge that 10 is one to many? Furthermore, unless this friend is someone who would share their deepest secrets with you, you may not entirely be aware of what is going on in their lives. It is for that reason, you cannot assume that someone who is looking to get pregnant for the 10th time has 9 children at home, or even if they do that they are not capable of having a 10th one or shouldn’t have a 10th one. It is not up to you to make that decision, the decision is up to the person looking to get pregnant. If they are asking for your help or advice with the matter, they obviously trust your opinion. The best thing to do is not try to convince them otherwise, because you don’t think it’s right, but instead do try and lend them a hand. Even if you don’t know where to start, the helpful effort would be appreciated,and that is the intent here as well.

I am going to offer different suggestions for practices that could help someone get pregnant for the 10th time, along with the pros and cons so someone can determine what the best way is for them. First, there is what can be referred to as the “good old fashioned” way by some, but is technically speaking the act of conception through intercourse. Secondly, there is the choice to use a surrogate for carrying the child. And lastly there is the process of artificial insemination.

I want to begin by stating that I am not a medical professional, I have not studied in the medical field, and I am not certified in any medical sense. What is listed from hereon out are strictly suggestions based on researched facts and figures, and nothing more. The advice provided in this essay should not be taken above the advice of a licensed medical professional.

The easiest starting point for having a child, be it the 1st or the 10th, would of course be to decide to have a child. It would be a good idea to find a partner who is also willing or that your current partner is in agreement on the subject. It takes two to tango, that’s a line I’m sure we have all heard and know is not limited to just dancing. But, I digress. The same can be said about having a child. Both parties have to be willing and able. It is at this point where both adults have consenual intercourse with the hopes of conceiving a child. Now if you have successfully conceived 9 healthy children, chances are this is the way to go when trying for kid number 10. It’s worked out for you well so far, so more power to you.

However, it would be remiss of me to not take into account the negatives that could effect the success of conception with this method. Taking into account the scenario where you have successfully conceived 9 nine times, but for one reason or another have not carried to term all 9 times, then you may need to seek an alternate method of conceiving or having a child. There are many reasons that a pregnancy doesn’t go to term and results in an early termination of the pregnancy. The frequently asked questions of a medical website suggest that common causes can be smoking and alcohol, “Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine also have been studied as causes of early pregnancy loss.” (FAQ090. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. August 2015. Despite these things having been studied the research is not entirely conclusive, but the general thought is to avoid these things in excess. Some woman believe that the early termination of their pregnancy is due to something that they may have done, but that is not actually the case in most early pregnancy occurrences. The same aforementioned frequently asked questions section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website states, “About one half of cases of early pregnancy loss are caused by a random event in which the embryo received an abnormal number of chromosomes.” These specific things also do not take into account the age of the woman who is attempting to get pregnant, which can cause issues or problems as well, especially if the woman is over the age of 40.

So what can you do if you come across this issue or another that keeps you from naturally and safely conceiving a child? There is always the option of finding or using a surrogate mother to carry your child. This is of course the process of another woman being impregnated with your egg through an implantation process or the surrogate mother’s own egg being fertilized by the your partner. If you do not have the fortune of knowing someone who would be willing to carry your child, such as a good friend or family member, there are companies that help hopeful parents-to-be with finding a stranger to have their child. I don’t know about you, but I would personally go with a stranger that was artificially implanted with the egg fertilized by my spouse or significant other. It could get a bit awkward with using a friend or family member, especially if you don’t go the artificial insemination route with the surrogate mother. But if you do and there is a willing family member, I have heard of cases where this has worked out just fine.

Surrogacy is also a safer alternative for women who have been identified as having a chance for a high risk pregnancy or unable to conceive. A surrogacy website online shared that health is certainly a factor for a surrogate pregnancy and how it related to success, not just for the contributing parents but also for the surrogate mother as well. They stated, “The greatest success will always come from an IVF procedure where the sperm donor has had thorough medical evaluations, the egg donor is young and has a positive fertility history, and where the surrogate is also young and has met rigorous fertility criteria. In general, success rates in cases similar to this will be between 55% and 75% for a fresh embryo transfer using two high-quality embryos.” (Surrogacy Success Rates. Sensible Surrogacy. 2014.

So let’s say you don’t want to go with a surrogate mother and you just need a little help with getting a pregnancy to take. In Vitro Fertilization or IVF, could be the solution for you in order to conceive. A medical website provided a few reasons for needing IVF, “IVF is usually the treatment of choice for a woman with blocked, severely damaged, or no Fallopian tubes. IVF is also used to overcome infertility caused by endometriosis or problems with the man’s sperm (such as low sperm count). Couples who simply can’t conceive and have tried other infertility methods (such as intrauterine insemination) that have not worked for them can also try IVF.” (Conrad Stöppler, Melissa, In Vitro Fertilization IVF Introduction. E Medicine Health. 2017.

Whatever the reason, IVF, would allow a couple having difficulty, to not only conceive a child, but also carry a child naturally without the need for a surrogate. For those not familiar with the process, with IVF, the egg is fertilized by the sperm in a laboratory dish and once fertilization has successfully taken place the egg is implanted into the woman. The woman will then be assisted with the pregnancy by various aids and medications to ensure a successful pregnancy carried out to full term. IVF can be a costly solution, but if you have no other choice, it would be a worthwhile investment for the end result of having a child.

Now, with all that said, there is still one other option. I will not go into great detail with this option, as it is not really a way to have a child, but it would result in getting a child. This option is of course adoption. You use an adoption agency to adopt a child from another country or from foster care or a similar child adoption agency in your country. If you do not wish to have a child of your own or cannot have a child of your own, it would certainly be a viable option for becoming a parent. It isn’t too difficult to look up adoption agencies online and contact them for more information regarding adoption.

So there you have it, three ways to have a 10th child. I will leave it up to you to pick the way that is best for you, because only you will know.

Monday, July 17, 2017

It's About Time: Doctor Who's Big Announcement

The BBC's TV & Internet Spot for the announcement.

Yesterday the BBC made a big announcement concerning their longest running sci-fi show, Doctor Who. The British Broadcasting Corporation had hinted recently that they would be revealing the new actor to play the latest iteration of the show's title character, the Doctor. All would be revealed on the 16th and the fandom waited with bated breath. It has been a long awaited reveal for fans of the show, since it was announced that the current actor and 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, was leaving the show after this current season. So, it was natural that there was a lot of speculation regarding who the next actor would be to take on the role.
Jodie Whittake
To both my surprise and relief, a female actress was revealed as the 13th Doctor. The show has finally taken that big step for it's main character as well. There will probably be people out there upset by this news, who feel it doesn't hold true to the character's history, the Doctor being a woman. But I could not be happier for the show to make such a move. It’s about time!

I am sure the show will come up with a clever explanation and reasoning for the female Doctor. But for me, that's the least interesting part of this announcement. The BBC, and new showrunner Chris Chibnall, chose Jodie Whittaker to take on the role for Season 11 (11th Season since the show’s reboot in 2005, but in actuality there have been 36 Seasons since the show’s beginning in 1963). Chris Chibnall is taking over from Steven Moffat who has been showrunner for the last three seasons and a lead writer for the last six. Chibnall is well known for his work on Torchwood, the first popular Doctor Who spin-off series, and ITV's detective series Broadchurch. And it's the show Broadchurch where the connection lies, as this is also the show that Jodie Whittaker played one of the main characters alongside Doctor Who alums David Tennant and Arthur Darvill. I have no concerns over Whittaker's entrance into one of my favorite shows. She’s stepping into well worn shoes, but they’re not going to be too big for her to fill. She will most certainly be receiving quite a few tips and advice from the previous Doctors and companion.

Left: Steven Moffat Right: Chris Chibnall
Now, to be clear, I am not saying that Jodie got the role because of her connection to Chibnall and former Doctors. In an interview with The Doctor Who Team, from the BBC's Doctor Who website, it’s mentioned that Chibnall met with Jodie for what she thought was a meeting about Broadchurch. During this meeting he urged her to consider auditioning for the role. After a lengthy audition process and many equally talented actors, they decided on Jodie based on her amazing audition.

Doctors 1-12
Fans of Doctor Who are familiar with the show's unique element. It's main character, a 1000+ year old time and space traveling alien, can regenerate into a completely new person whenever he comes into a life threatening situation to save himself from death. This of course is a big reason for the show's longevity since it first premiered in 1963. It's not so difficult to continue with a show for over 50 years when you can constantly switch out your lead actor. 12 different actors have portrayed the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi. John Hurt is also worth mentioning, who played the War Doctor at the end of Matt Smith's run in Season 7 and the 50th Anniversary special. This was an incarnation which fell between McGann and Eccleston, even though the character was not written until much later, who chose not to take the name of "The Doctor" and therefore does not technically fall within the list of 12 Doctors.

Missy and the various Masters.
Regardless of whether you have watched the series, you can see by the list of names that the Doctor has always been a man. The show took a big step towards gender reversal when they took the Doctor's arch rival and fellow timelord, The Master, and had him regenerate into Missy aka The Mistress played by Michelle Gomez. A role, much like The Doctor, which had previously been played by men and most notably Roger Delgado (originator of role from 1971 until 1973) and more recently Derek Jacobi and John Simm.

The Doctor is all about change: companions, locations, bodies. And changing into a different gender is wrong and out of character? Oh please. The alien race which the Doctor belongs to are called the Timelords, and just like the human race they consist of both the male and female gender. They are not a single race of men. So what is the big deal for the Doctor to turn into a woman? It was previously established, with the War Doctor, that The Doctor was able to choose to become a warrior, something that was completely outside his established persona. Then what is there to stop him from deciding to become a woman?

I would like to go back to the interview from The Doctor Who Team. It’s a brief interview but I found it quite interesting. They asked 13 questions for the 13th Doctor, which you can find here. I read through it and feel even more excited for her involvement. When asked what it felt like to be the first woman Doctor, she had this to say, "It feels completely overwhelming, as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you're told you can and can't be. It feels incredible." I am of the mindset that social norms are outdated and that people shouldn't feel constricted to fitting into a specific box just because of their race, gender, etc. So this quote is a joy to read. She was also asked what she would tell the fans, "I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that's exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one." How can you not be excited about someone with such an outlook on taking over the lead role in a beloved TV show? A show which is literally based on change. I know I am.

Bring on Season 11!

Fairly soon, Jodie Whittaker will be off on adventures in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wonder Woman AKA the DC Movie You've Been Waiting For

I'm not just saying that because I'm a woman. I'm saying that because I'm a DC fan, who has been waiting for a movie that would make up for the short falls of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a movie that would raise DC to Marvel's playing field, and a movie that would wow me. Wonder Woman did just that.

Gal Gadot was already a shining moment in Batman v Superman as the Amazonian super hero. So I had no doubt that a full length feature dedicated to a female badass would be anything but great.

To say that there has been a lot of buzz surrounding this movie would be an understatement. This is a movie that has been a long time coming. But why is that exactly? Why has it taken this long to have a Wonder Woman movie? The answer is simply that the comic book world is much like our own. In the past, when comics first came to be, minorities were rarely represented and women certainly fell into that category. Now a days, strong female role models are available and are represented across many different platforms. May it be film, TV, books, in businesses, or job fields that were once primarily male dominated. Now is the time that you can have a super hero movie with a strong female lead that says I can stand beside men and lead them.
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman

We needed a time like now, for a movie such as this to be made. I don't just mean a time where women have more rights. I mean a time where super hero movies are blockbuster hits. Where you can make a Batman movie and have it be a success, or a successful Superman movie, and not stop there. Wonder Woman is a powerhouse staple of DC comics, an instrumental member of the Justice League, where she is an equal to the likes of Batman and Superman. Marvel is only starting to bring their strong female characters to light, DC has been supportive of Wonder Woman for quite some time. You not only had a Batman series in the 60s, but you had a Wonder Woman series in the late 70s. My childhood memories of Wonder Woman start there, with the wonderful Lynda Carter. She wore the iconic blue, red and yellow outfit. She fought with her lasso of truth and wrist guards, and she had an invisible jet. As a kid, it was cool to think that someone could have an invisible vehicle. It lent itself well to a child's imagination, where you could decide what it looked like and not be wrong. Naturally, as one gets older, you realize it was silly, campy and not that great a show. But, while Wonder Woman was only on the air for three seasons, it and Lynda Carter did pave the way, a stepping stone on the road to a film which would do justice to such a great female character and role model.

This brings me to my next point, why it was ridiculous for there to be an argument over whether or not there should be an all female showing of Wonder Woman, or that if there was one there should also be an all male showing. What? With everything happening in the world currently, that is what we need to argue about? In a time where we actually need Wonder Woman to save and protect the innocent, people think that the big deal is that women should have a special showing of Wonder Woman. For me personally, I could care less. I would not directly seek out an all female showing of the film. I base my movie viewing on when I have time to go see the movie. I would not have an issue if there was a female viewing, it's not absolutely necessary but it's justified. How often have super hero movies seen a large female audience flock to the theaters for another reason than to stare at the pretty? I'm not saying that men are not allowed to like a female super hero, and that there aren't a lot of women into comics, on the contrary. But if there are men that take issue with an all female showing of Wonder Woman, they're clearly missing the point of Wonder Woman. People should celebrate Wonder Woman for its achievement but not make too big of a deal out of it. You cheapen it and make the film seem like it's a novelty rather than a step towards this type of heroine becoming a regular thing. Do you know what type of showing this movie should have? An all kids showing. Where girls can see what a true female super hero is and have someone to look up to as a role model . Where little boys can see that girls can be strong and fair, caring and smart. Further instilling in the next generation the important values of bravery, compassion, loyalty, and love.

Now, it would be remiss of me not to briefly mention the soundtrack of this movie. It was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Legend of Tarzan, Hacksaw Ridge), a British composer with quite a varied body of work. I happen to be listening to the soundtrack as I type and I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of great instrumental soundtracks. The music is both subtle and spectacular, when it needs to be and is perfectly suitable for the scene it appears in. The track names are great also. You have Angel On the Wing, Pain, Loss & Love, Wonder Woman's Wrath, We Are All To Blame, and the only track with lyrics, To Be Human by Sia featuring Labrinth. What we think of as the main theme with the high-pitched screeching guitar, which captivated us all with just a few notes in the trailers, appears in more than one track and it could not fit the character any better. It made me grin like the Cheshire Cat in my seat, as it first played through the booming speakers of the theater.

With that said, let's get a little more into the movie then shall we?

Gal, Robin and Connie
Chris, Danny, and David
The cast in this movie is amazing. Gal Gadot a Wonder Woman to reckon with. She is beautiful and gives a flawless portrayal of an intelligent young woman whose biggest hindrance is her naivety towards modern society and the world which surrounds her sheltered island. Then to round out the strong female cast, we have Robin Wright as Diana's aunt, General Antiope. Don't mess with Princess Buttercup, as Themyscria's mightiest warrior she will kick your ass and make you say, "As you wish!" We also have Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She rules fairly and with strength but is very protective of Diana, her daughter. Captain Pine Chris Pine plays Steve Trevor, the American working as a WWI spy for the British. While many may have trouble separating Pine from his popular role of Captain James T. Kirk in the rebooted Star Trek movies, I did not feel his previous role distracted from his portrayal of a spy with an unwavering commitment to complete his mission and make a difference. You have the typical bad guy in German baddie, Ludendorff, played by Danny Huston. His main goal is to guarantee victory instead of the pending armistice through means of chemical warfare. In a role that surprised me, for a reason which which I will not give away, you have the talented David Thewlis as Sir Patrick. The British actor is well known for playing Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter series. The movie is rounded out by a stellar supporting cast of characters; Said Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, Eugene Brave Rock as The Chief, and Lucy Davis as Etta, to name a few.
Patty Jenkins

I should also mention, this movie was directed by a woman. There of course are other female directors out there, this is not something new. But it's like the icing on the cake for the Wonder Woman movie. I don't usually pay that close attention to directors, so I didn't know that Patty Jenkins was directing this movie until someone mentioned it. I'm not really familiar with Patty's previous work, but she did a fantastic job bringing this movie to life and giving vision to the writers' story. The story and screen play was written by Zach Snyder, Allen Heinberg, and Jason Fuchs. Speaking of Zach Snyder, the director of Batman v Superman, he even had a cameo in the film. It's not a big cameo and it's unclear where exactly he shows up, but he appears in the background as a WWI soldier.

The movie is set during the First World War, the war to end all wars. Oh, if only the people then would have known what would happen just about two decades later. While some may claim this is reminiscent of Captain America and World War II, the environment of the first world war was different. You had different powers fighting amongst themselves: the British Empire, Ottoman Empire, German Empire, Austria-Hungry, and many more. The great war, as it was known, was the worst conflict the world had ever seen at that time. Such unbelievable destruction, and death. Not to mention the dawn of chemical warfare. The shock it left in it's wake was the needed catalyst to send Diana onto her path to protect the innocent and defend the weak. 

Themyscira, the Amazon's Paradise Island

It's hard to pick out my favorite scenes, one because it was just a really good movie and it's hard to settle on one or even a couple favorite scenes. Two, its a cop-out to just say all of it was my favorite and three, I'm starting to forget some of it. So I will settle on, the opening scenes on Themyscira. The opening scenes were beautiful. The real-life location used for the film is the famed Amalfi coast of Italy in the Mediterranean.This is the type of place that you long to visit when you see it on TV or in travel brochures. I've always wanted to visit the Mediterranean coastline of Italy. It's gorgeous with idyllic cliff-side towns overlooking the clear blue-green water of the sea. This particular coastline is a 25 mile long world heritage site boasting beautiful beaches, with not too much tide and not too many waves. It sounds so peaceful and relaxing. The scenes shot in this location, which also had a lot of CGI to add more cliffs and the large impressive buildings of the Amazons, made you understand why they chose this location. You add in the adorable child actress who played the young Diana and you have a great origin put forth in the first act of the movie. I loved getting to see Diana's lifestyle and upbringing.

Italy's Amalfi coast.

So, I think that will do it for my review of Wonder Woman. There is so much more I could add and go over, but I feel I have achieved my task of enticing you to go see it. Besides, there have already been quite a few reviews that have dived deep into the meat of the movie and given away a lot of the film because of it. I like the fact that I have been able to write this much and yet not given anything away. 

I will leave you then with this final word: go see this movie ASAP!

This is totally my desktop image.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

In the Footsteps of the Brothers Grimm: My Recent Trip to Germany

I recently returned from Germany, where I was visiting my grandparents and family. It was great to be back again, after nearly two years. The weather wasn't the greatest but it was a nice change and we did have a few partially sunny days. Most of the time, it was cloudy and cool, as some of my photos will show, but we came prepared with jackets.
Views from the top of the Trendelburg tower.
Most of our two week trip was spent in my mother's home town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf with my grandparents. A few days were spent with the rest of our family: a trip into the city with my aunt, grilling with my cousin and his family, and Greek food with my other cousin and her family.

For the first time, we rented a car instead of taking the train from Frankfurt to Bad Sooden. It gave us the mobility to not only do some shopping for my grandparents but also to go exploring. A burg(a medieval fortress), which inspired the tale of Rapunzel, was where we wound up. Initially, we had planned to go further south but the weather in Bavaria was much colder and there was a lot of construction on the autobahns down there according to our family.

Trendelburg, the gate, tower entrance, and the gate from inside.
Despite my numerous trips to Germany over the years, I have yet to explore most of it. We tend to spend a lot of time at home with my grandparents, which I don't mind at all, but that does mean there are still a lot of cities to visit. There is so much rich history in a place that has been a country for centuries upon centuries longer than the United States. From King Ludwig and his impressive famous castles, to the green rolling hills and thick forests, the mountains in the south, the seaside to the north, and more castles and burgs than you can imagine.

Bad Sooden-Allendorf is located in Northern Hessen and not many people (outside of those that live there or have visited) have heard of it. But some may have heard of Kassel or Hanau, two cities located just under an hour west and two hours south of Bad Sooden, respectively. Kassel is special for many reasons, but one that has always fascinated me is its connection with the Brothers Grimm. Germany's most famous storytellers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were born in Hanau and lived in Kassel during the time they pieced together their collection of fairy tales. Now that I'm older, and through the power of the internet, I can research the Brothers Grimm and their old stomping grounds. These stomping grounds just so happen to be all over Hessen and make for a lot of neat places to visit within hours of my mother's hometown.

Since I was a little girl, growing up in Germany, I was told countless stories and myths about the area by my grandparents. One in particular, which my grandfather made up but I held as fact as a child, was a story about the local castle, Rothestein. The castle with the 7 daughters, my grandfather used to say, as he told the story during a break from a bike ride. We would stop along a field on the outskirts of town and look up at the castle sitting high up on a nearby hill. A wealthy count lived in the castle with his 7 daughters, whom he was seeking to marry off. I don't remember much of the tale, but the part about the 7 daughters living in the castle stuck with me and I remember so badly wanting to meet them. In our family, it has always been called the Castle with the 7 Daughters and it was years before I knew its actual name. A local count did own it at one point in time, but he never had 7 daughters. But that story did begin a lifelong fascination with castles and fairy tales.

So many stairs.
I have been to all of the local burgs and castles near Bad Sooden. So for this trip, I was excited to check another off the list, and visit Trendelburg to learn all about its connection to the Brothers Grimm. This burg(a case where the fortress and the surrounding village have the same name) has been modernized, at least in the main building which is now a luxury hotel. But its tower is still largely in the original condition, along with the walls and foundation of the surrounding area. The bridge over the steep drop off was rebuilt with sturdy wood to create a new walkway, which, I would like to believe, used to be a draw bridge at one point. Even the main entrance was built for deterrence, in that it is smaller on the outside and grows taller on the inside leading to the inner courtyard. You have to bend as you walk through it.

The dungeon.
For a nominal fee, you can explore the old tower which has been turned into a medieval museum featuring armor, weapons, Rapunzel artwork, and a dungeon below ground full of torture devices. It was dark and creepy but also fascinating. Not to mention, it was quite the workout. Climbing all the way to the top, back down, then further down and back up again. Half of the steps were nothing like the stairs we are accustomed to today. They were cut and carved from large stone blocks, making for an uneven and clunky stroll up or down.

After you've finished exploring the tower, you can enjoy a meal or coffee (tea for those who don't care much for coffee) and cake in the restaurant. It is also staged in a medieval atmosphere with antique furniture and suits of armor. For 10 Euros you can purchase your drink in a commemorative Trendelburg coffee cup to take with you when you leave, which I did. It's a nice souvenir that is also functional.

On the way out, we made a new friend named Spider--an orange and white cat. He (I think it was a he, with a name like Spider) watched us press a 5 cent coin into another souvenir and take pictures with our faces in a Rapunzel cutout. Then it was back to the car for the drive home, where we made it back just in time to eat dinner with my grandparents and tell them all about our trip. It was a great day, and a great trip.
Rapunzel's long braid, the inner courtyard, the hotel, and me as Rapunzel.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stef vs Nor'easter: My Trip to Pennsylvania

My recent trip to Pennsylvania began with a slightly rocky start. Luckily, everything went uphill from there and resulted in a great trip to a place I had never been, to visit an equally great guy.

I made the trip to visit my boyfriend and see where he lived and worked. At the same time, this trip would afford me the chance to meet his parents and oldest friends. Initially, there were plans to sight-see throughout the Lehigh Valley area, visit Philadelphia and possibly New York (Staten Island). But, even with the best laid plans and all that jazz, a snow storm--in March--put a halt to things.

It all started with a cancelled flight. Originally, I was to fly into Allentown, PA (with a layover in Chicago). On the morning of my flight, in the airport shuttle, I received a notification that my second flight had been cancelled. I arrived at the airport and was taken to the customer service desk. After a search for another flight, my options were looking dismal and involved a red eye flight to Newark. I called my boyfriend (waking him from slumber) in the early morning hours and asked for advice. We worked our way through the options and as a last result, he suggested Scranton, PA. It wound up being available for the same arrival time and still through Chicago. This, of course, meant that he had to drive an hour to Scranton in order to pick me up, but at least it wasn't from Newark, with a day of delay, and during a snowstorm.

People were either trying to beat the storm as I was, or escaping it. Luckily with the new flight plans, I managed to stay one step ahead of the storm the entire way before it hit in full force the next day. 14 inches of snow later, I shoveled snow for the first time. It was exhausting but fun and I would gladly do it again, trading desert summers for East Coast winters in a heartbeat. People always call me crazy when I make that statement, but I know I was not made for the blistering heat of Arizona. I was made for the cold!

The calm after the storm.
Shoveled sidewalk.
The snow and the act of shoveling it for a good portion of the day, resulted in a very lazy subsequent day. It was spent on the couch watching movies and the season one DVD box set of Supernatural. The roads were only slightly better the next day when we ventured out to have dinner with Jason's father (his mother was away on a trip at the time). Afterwards, there was another movie and more Supernatural (it's a favorite of mine and he was nice enough to indulge me with starting the show from the beginning). The next couple days involved much of the same except for venturing out further to a couple shopping centers to wander around, have lunch and get steps in. I recently bought a Fitbit, so a large portion of the week involved a lot of walking around the house (many times) to reach my daily step goal and stay active as much as the weather and vacation laziness would allow.

Me and Jason.
The start of the weekend was marked by a Skype call with Canadian friends; for their podcast, "How Was Your Week, Honey?" Both of us were on with Chris and Kristin, a lovely married couple we met through podcasting, who asked us to discuss the "origin story" of our relationship and the week we'd had thus far. It was a lot of fun and we had great conversations, but the whole thing wound up going so long that we didn't end with them until 3:00 am. The podcast was released in two parts, which can be found here and here. With how long we were chatting, naturally the first day of the weekend was spent in a lazy fashion once again.

We did make up for the laziness with a trip back to Scranton. This time to visit Chris and Zapata, two long time friends who conveniently lived a couple blocks apart from each other. We spent time with Chris and his family, learning a lot of interesting things about the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game, and chatting in their home. After that we picked Zapata up at his place and went out for lunch at a local diner. It was an enjoyable time meeting Jason's friends and also getting to learn some new things about him. The day ended with dinner at his parents’ house where I was finally able to meet his mom in person. We had a delicious meal, great conversation, and finished the evening with a movie: The Big Chill.
Me in front of the Steel Stacks.

Steel Stacks at night.
We packed the most activities into the last two days. The first of which was spent visiting the Steel Stacks (an old steel manufacturing facility which now holds events and festivals), the Sands Casino Resort and mall, a flea market, and a bowling alley. Then on the day I was flying out, we had lunch with Jason's mom after a quick tour of the workplace so I could meet his co-workers and boss. Afterwards, we wandered around to walk off the food and, again, make sure that I got my steps in. A short stop at Coca-Cola Park (the baseball field where the local team the Iron Pigs play), rounded out the trip.

The better bowler.
I was made aware, at some point during the trip, that the first leg of my return (Allentown to Newark) would not be by plane but by a United Bus. I'd never heard of such a thing, but was reassured that it would be a simple process by Jason's mother, who had taken the bus before. It did end up being very simple, but I had not realized that I would not be going through security at Allentown so we had a lot of time to kill. This wasn't a bad thing and I think it did help to make the goodbyes a bit easier. The hour and a half long bus ride felt like no time at all and I arrived with an hour to spare before my flight boarded. This was a good thing, because the line to get through security was super long, but it moved swift enough. Then it was a five hour flight back to Phoenix from Newark. Another good thing to note: my seat was upgraded for free at the gate to an economy plus seat. They were moving people around and they put me in an emergency exit row, but this meant more leg room so I wasn't complaining.

All in all, it was a great trip that could have started out poorly but luckily didn't and allowed me to spend an enjoyable week with Jason. I can honestly recommend the Lehigh Valley area to anyone looking to visiting this charming and historically rich area. As I was told during my stay, Lehigh Valley is the third largest metropolitan in Pennsylvania (comprised of Allentown, Easton, and Bethlehem), behind Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I only saw a small portion of Bethlehem and Allentown. So if you're ever in the area, do go and explore.
Steel Stacks

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Spring into April: Tips to Help Prepare for Spring

It's that time of year again. The birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming. Spring is in the air and it's time to put winter in the rear-view mirror. 

There are a lot of things that happen or can happen, maybe even should happen when Spring rolls around. Some of them halted by the cold weather of winter or due to changing priorities. Whatever the reason for changing habits over to more appropriate winter ones, once the days start to get longer it's time to embrace the vernal equinox again.

So here are five tips to help you do just that.

1) De-clutter

There's just something about winter that justifies a burrowing mentality. You tend to collect things, or receive things(Christmas, Hanukkah, etc) and not necessarily put those things away. It's ok, you can admit it, a little bit of laziness is a part of the turf when it comes to winter. 

Those books you have piled on top of your desk, the mail in a stack right beside the books, the jackets and scarfs hung over chairs. It's time for those things to go. 

You don't want to open the blinds or curtains and throw open the windows to let in that spring sunshine and fresh air, only for it to highlight the clutter that is EVERYWHERE. 

Hang up the scarfs, put the books away on a shelf and shred all that excess mail that you don't need anymore. It will make it all the more easier to dust and use that desk for what is was intended to be used.

2) Change Up the Wardrobe

You've put away the scarfs and gloves, but don't stop there. 

I tend to move my clothes around twice a year, in the winter and the spring. When it begins to get cold outside, I will dig out the jackets, sweaters and long sleeve shirts. They will all be moved to the side of the closet closer to the door; it's all about the ease of access.

Therefore, logic dictates, I do it all again when the weather begins to get warmer. This time with the t-shirts, tank tops, and blouses.

This isn't a must, but I don't have a huge closet. So if I can shove clothes I won't need for months off to one side, and only use one door, I will.

3) Get Outside

With warm weather comes outdoor activities. Don't waste any time to stretch out those muscles that may not have gotten as much attention during those winter months as they could have. 

Pick back up with hobbies you like to do outside or find new ones. The options really are endless. You can go for picnics or walks through the park. Head to the local zoo or an outdoor shopping area. 

Go rediscover those places you frequented the last time the weather was great, and maybe add a few new places to that list while you're at it.

4) Fight Allergies

Now if you're like me, Spring is not always the kindest to allergy sufferers. I live in a dusty and dry desert climate, so I'm no stranger to allergies through out the year. But they tend to seem a little worse once March and April roll around. 

There's no way to avoid blooming flowers and pollen in the springtime. It's nice to see blossoming trees and wild flowers growing in the woods. It's a pretty sight to behold after the empty, dead look that trees and plants were afforded by Winter.

So if you have allergies, don't let that stop you from enjoying the outdoors and the fantastic weather. There are a lot of great products out there to help stave off the effects of pollen and those other silly allergens.

5) Unruly Weather Alternatives

Drip drop drip. Little April showers.

Living in Arizona, our rainy days tend to be few and far between. Unless it's July and August(the monsoon season), that's when we see the majority of our rain for the year.

But for those of you who live in more humid climates, Spring often brings rain with it. So while you would prefer to be done with dreary cloudy days, use these days to your advantage as well. I for one love dreary cloudy days(and not just because I live in a desert and it's a rare break from the at times harsh sun), because it always tends to put me in the right mood for reading. 

I love reading books, to the point where the lack of space on my shelves has not stopped me from buying more. But now a days, you don't have to limit yourself to books. It's just as easy to curl up with an e-reader or tablet and wile away the rainy hours with a great story. 

Of course, what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't also recommend reading blogs as well, if you're not in the mood for a novel. There are so many different blogs out there, with varied topics for you to read. You obviously found this one, or have been a faithful reader for a while(welcome to the new folks and thank you all for reading). 

But don't be shy, branch out and subscribe to more blogs. You are guaranteed to find plenty more that you'll be interested in. I actually was recently made aware of a blog from iRazoo. They are an online survey company where you can take surveys to earn points which you can then redeem for gift cards. Their blog offers tips and advice on a variety of topics including a rundown on how to get the most out of their website. I haven't had the chance to check out their surveys yet, but it does seem interesting and would certainly help pass the time while you're trapped inside by rainy weather.

Some of my current go-to blogs that I would highly recommend are, Honey Bears and Sydney Beans, and the Crimson Circle Club. The first is a geek pop culture blog with fun content and honest spoiler-free reviews of books, music, TV shows and movies. The second is a family blog by a lovely Canadian who uses her blog to share her experiences as a wife and busy mom of two girls. The last is a blog written by a group of women dealing with subject matter ranging from dog walking to thought provoking discussion topics.

So there you have it. Some tips to help you usher in the Spring. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a book to enjoy on the patio.