I rode 462 miles across Iowa and all I got was this weird tan

Overhead shot of feet on carpet with tans that outline the Keen sandals i wore
The result of wearing Keen Newport sandals under the extremely strong sun for 7 consecutive days bike riding.

I’ve had some past technical issues with this blog which is why I haven’t posted since almost a year ago, but it seems appropriate to recommence now with a special post about a bike ride I took across the state of Iowa one month ago called RAGBRAI.

RAGBRAI is an acronym and registered trademark for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and it’s largest bike-touring event in the world. It took place this year from July 19-25, starting at the Missouri River in Sioux City, IA and ending at the Mississippi River in Davenport, IA. The last time the ride started in Sioux City was in 1973, and there was much celebration of having them back in town after being gone so long. The ride itself spans 7 days, but riders can opt to participate as many days as they choose. I believe the ridership was somewhere around 10,000, but on certain days, it swelled up to about 20,000 with day/partial riders. Partial riders are people who chose to only ride one day, or less than the entire week’s tour.

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My intention of this entry is not to give a history lesson into what RAGBRAI is or how it functions—you can visit their site or go to Wikipedia to learn that. Instead, I want to try and convey a fraction of the excitement and emotions I, and many others felt, taking part in this unbelievable, unforgettable experience.

There is so much I want to write about this trip that I don’t even know where to start or finish. I’ll begin by saying that RAGBRAI was my first time in Iowa, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this—what better way to visit a state than riding your bike across it, stopping at quaint little towns along the way. How I actually got involved in it was completely by chance. I was telecommuting on a freelance project back in November 2014, working with a writer name George, and our only communication was by phone and email. During one of our conversations, he told me about RAGBRAI and how he had been wanting to do it for years. He was planning (or hoping) to do the 2015 ride in July—he and his friend, Michael, were going to sign up and he proposed the idea of me joining them. At the time, I had only started to begin riding my bike on a regular basis and the thought of riding across Iowa was a little too ambitious for me. And let me just state for the record—IOWA IS NOT FLAT. There are many, many rolling hills that may look like nothing when driving in a car, but on a bike, they can break even strong cyclists.

Fast forward to March 2015, I had then been riding my bike all throughout winter and was gaining confidence in my ability to persevere through the elements, especially wind, as difficult as it was at times. I started to feel and believe that I could actually do this ride in July if I kept up with training. So months after my freelance project had ended and I lost touch with George, I reached out to him to see if he and his friend Michael were still planning the trip. Turns out that they were, and I joined their team Abiding Dudes (yes, a homage to the Big Lebowski).

Team photo of Abiding Dudes the night before the ride. Saturday, July 18, 2015. Sioux City, IA
Team photo of Abiding Dudes the night before the ride. Saturday, July 18, 2015. Sioux City, IA
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White russian on the right sleeve and bowling ball on the left.

We officially commenced training in April, as that’s when RAGBRAI had recommended starting it—according to their suggested training guide. The goal was to train about 500 miles prior to the event to ensure you would make it through the entire tour. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I was not working full-time during the period leading up to the ride and was able to log over 1,100 hours of training. Even though every mile I trained was well worth it, in hindsight, for people that work full-time and have families, I’m not quite sure how they could fit in 100 hours of riding per week.

2015 RAGBRAI Training Plan chart
2015 RAGBRAI Training Plan

I knew this ride would be momentous in so many ways, and it did not disappoint. We went, what I like to call, the ‘purist’ route, camping out almost every night (instead of staying at hotels or people in the host towns). The reason I call it that is because I believe in order to fully experience RAGBRAI, you need to at least do the entire week riding 65+ miles a day, then carry a 50lb bag to a crowded camp site, find a spot to set up camp, take a shower in a gym locker room with strangers, find dinner in town, and then come back to your tent to sleep, only to start the day over again at 5am—all over the course of a week. My teammates and I did this 6 out of the 7 nights (one of the nights we stayed with a host family), and I couldn’t believe how far I had pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. I had never camped in my life, and the only practice I had of assembling a tent was in my small apartment a couple of weeks before the ride. But by the end of the trip, I could set up camp and break it down more efficiently than I thought I ever would. And taking a shower with strangers—after sweating for 8+ hours, getting dirt kicked up on you, using porta potties with no toilet paper—was more than welcome if it meant being clean.

Waking up at dawn every day and riding so many miles may sound daunting but it was the only thing you had to do everyday. That’s it. There was no commuting on crowded trains, no checking email (especially since service was very limited), no texting, no deadlines or meetings, just riding your bike through beautiful scenery, stopping to eat and drink whenever you needed and wanted, and enjoying the entire experience.

It’s impossible to pinpoint one favorite moment during this trip. From the towns we passed through, the delicious food we ate, to the endless corn fields and thousands of people and towns we encountered, I couldn’t have imagined all of it, nor will I ever forget it.

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As the annual RAGBRAI tradition goes, riders dip their back tire in the Missouri River to signify the beginning of the ride and departure from western Iowa.
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For riders who do the entire 7 days and have earned bragging rights, they get to dip their front tire in the Mississippi, signifying the end of the ride and arrival to eastern Iowa.
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RAGBRAI swag: Bike license plate, luggage tag, patch memento, route map
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RAGBRAI swag: Rider’s bracelet (completely worn after the ride), list of each city/town we rode through, bike bracelet, participant guide.
The route map for our first day: Sunday, July 19, 2015
The route map for our first day: Sunday, July 19, 2015. Notice the nearly 4,000 feet of climb!
The route map for our first day: Sunday, July 19, 2015
The route map for our last day: Saturday, July 25, 2015

I took the below video at the top of a hill because I wanted to capture the scenic landscape and the riders going downhill. I wanted to remember that moment and how I felt experiencing this. Watching the video, it might seem as though no one is having a good time. There aren’t many people smiling, and it appears they’re just trying to get from point A to B. That may be true for some (maybe those who have done it before), but I guarantee you there were many of us, including me, who were filled with so much excitement that we were actually doing this. The months of training and planning were finally coming to fruition and it was surreal. Yes, the rides were tough at times, many times, but to know that when you woke up all you had to do was ride your bike, eat food, rest, and have a good time, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so hard.

Some of the people, food, landmarks and towns we came across.

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The University of Iowa rents out a land from a local Iowan to give riders a place to relax along the route.

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Ft. Dodge was the second host city where we stayed on Monday, July 20th.
Ft. Dodge was the second host city, where we stayed on Monday, July 20th.
Steamboat Rock was the first town we hit after leaving the campgrounds in Eldora on Day 4 - Wednesday, July 22nd.
Steamboat Rock was the first town we hit after leaving the campgrounds in Eldora on Day 4 – Wednesday, July 22nd.
You'd think growing up in NYC, large, towering structures wouldn't intimidate me, but these grain towers sure did.
You’d think growing up in NYC, large, towering structures wouldn’t intimidate me, but these grain towers sure did.
Can you image City Hall and the New York Public Library sharing one roof?
Can you image City Hall and the New York Public Library sharing one roof?
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Every town we went to welcomed the riders with open arms and celebrated RAGBRAI in their own creative way.

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A lot of people were stopping to photograph these Minion haystacks. The funny thing was that these were 1 of about 5 that I saw on the ride.
A lot of people were stopping to photograph these Minion haystacks. The funny thing was that these were 1 of about 5 that I saw on the ride.
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Google set up charging stations at meet towns where people, including myself and my teammates, would trustingly leave our phones to charge while we found food and relaxed. They were always there when we returned, though I was constantly worried they wouldn’t be! (Meet towns are towns located half way through each day’s route. They have the official bike vendors/sponsors and most food offerings/porta potties, celebratory events, etc.)
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The Mayor of Lisbon, IA, Beryl O’Connor came out on the rainy day to greet us and other riders to town.
This poor guy was pooped. I found him in the high school in Coralville (we mostly camped on high school grounds in the various towns and used their showers).
This poor guy was pooped. I found him in the high school in Coralville (we mostly camped on high school grounds in the various towns and used their facilities, including outlets).
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Ironically, the big celebration was not the last day of the ride in Davenport. Instead, it was the last night of the ride, Friday, July 24th in Coralville, IA. Coralville has been a repeat host for RAGBRAI.
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After a long 7 days, we finally celebrated with our own white russians.

Jazz Age Lawn Party

 

This year marked the 9th anniversary of the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, and my first time attending. The event, a prohibition era inspired celebration, was first conceived by composer Michael Arnella of (Michael Arnella and his Dreamland Orchestra) as a small gathering, and originally produced by Governor’s Island. However, after three years, Michael Arnella took the reigns and grew it into one of New York City’s most memorable and enjoyable annual summer events.

For $37.50, you gain general admission where you’re welcome to picnic on the lawn in style. But the celebration is more than just a throwback party which takes place two weekends a year. Michael Arnella, as well as all of the performers and vendors, pay homage to the era by being as accurate as possible in their delivery and execution of everything from the music they play to the food they serve. And while dressing in the period attire isn’t mandatory, floating through a sea of people who look like they’re headed to a speak easy, makes the pretend prohibition era feel that much more real and magical.

Jazz Age Lawn Party 2014 Waiting on Line to enter the main event area    Jazz Age Lawn Party 2014 Entrance to event

Jazz Age Lawn Party 2014: HBO's Boardwalk Empire sponsored stage with performers    Jazz Age Lawn Party 2014 pink entry bracelet

 

Spend time with a shelter animal

Tony lying on the sand/grass with the bay in the background

I’ve been volunteering with Bobbi and the Strays (BATS) animal shelter in Freeport, Long Island for a few years now (they also have a location in Glendale, Queens). And though I don’t post all of my animal outings on my blog, this is one I wanted to share.

Most of the dogs at BATS are pit bulls/pit bull mixes. Many are either found wandering the streets that people bring in, or they’re tied to a pole outside of the shelter. Because of the stigma associated with this breed, it’s often difficult to adopt them out. Add to the fact that many of these dogs are not puppies, the barrier to adoption is compounded.

Volunteering at a shelter can at times be heartbreaking. You see these animals (dogs and cats) who have been abused, neglected, are sick or a combination of all. As an animal lover, you are overcome with sadness and helplessness that you can’t save every one, or at least be in a position to find each of them a loving, stable home. But it’s so important to try to put your emotions aside to be selfless in the time you spend with one of these animals. Due to limited space, the dogs spend 22 hours a day in small kennels. For most dogs, the kennel they stay in are large enough to at least stand and move about a little, but it’s still a harrowing effort in adopting out an animal caged all day long with little socialization.

Being able to give one or two hours, or any length of time, with an animal really does make a world of difference for them, especially with these dogs since they are pack animals that inherently thrive on socialization and interaction with other dogs and people. As often as I can, I will go to BATS and take one of the dogs out for a day’s adventure. Since I am not allowed to have dogs where I live, I plan ahead so I can figure out a place to take them. On this particular day, I decided to spend time with Tony, an American Staffordshire tied up to a pole outside of the shelter along with another dog, which the staff had named Carmella. Carmella was adopted earlier this year, but Tony was still waiting for a home. I took Tony to my favorite dog-friendly place – Gardiner County Park in Bayshore, Long Island – where I had taken other BATS dogs in the past. This park is amazing. I’ve been there many times and have only seen a tiny fraction of the 231 acres which sit along the Great South Bay. The Park has everything you could want, whether or not you have a dog. It’s clean with endless meadows of green grass and trees, has various paths to walk along, there’s a nice covered picnic area, and of course the beach, which the dogs absolutely love, even if they’re afraid of the water! You get a clear view of the Robert Moses Bridge and can see the Fire Island Lighthouse across the bay.

I urge anyone who is contemplating volunteering at a shelter – even if just to give one dog a short walk, or to sit and pet a cat – to do it. Not only is it therapeutic for you, but the animals will enjoy every second, even if they can’t tell you that themselves!

Tony is STILL UP FOR ADOPTION. He gets along with all dogs, but because of his playful nature he’s best suited for medium-larger dogs as he gets overly excited with smaller ones. He’s calm, obedient, great on a leash, and loves being around people. See the pics and videos below and learn more about him on the BATS website

Tony standing on the sandy trail with the bay in the background   Tony sitting on the sandy trail with the bay in the background   Tony sitting on a jetty right next to the water

 

 

 

 

 

Cup & Spoon – WOW District: Chicago

Cup & Spoon interior. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago
Cup & Spoon interior.
Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago

I recently visited my close friend from Portfolio School (Creative Circus), Rose Quasarano, in Chicago, where she now lives. Like many people I graduated the Circus with, Rosie made a huge leap from being an advertising creative in as an Associate Creative Director at a well-respected agency, to being an entrepreneur diving headfirst into the unknown of owning and running her own coffee shop. Ironically, though, the industry she left to pioneer her entrepreneurial dream, armed her with an arsenal of resources and connections to help her get started.

What began as a life long dream turned into a pop-up shop (at NOSH in Wicker Park/Logan Square Farmer’s Market), then a Kickstarter campaign and finally a brick and mortar business called Cup & Spoon, which now stands at 2415 W North Ave in the WOW district (West Of Western) of Chicago. I was honored when Rosie asked me to design her logo, and in doing so  joined a few other Circus alumni whose talent and admiration for Rosie helped nurture her ambition to open this shop (Designer Kiki Karpus and writer RC Jones both generously donated their talent to offer perks for C&S’s Kickstarter campaign). Like many small businesses, Cup & Spoon strongly believes in supporting the community in which it’s based, and sources their brew and sweet treats locally. But what really makes them special is Rosie’s continued connection to artists. Cup & Spoon shares a building with Dreambox Gallery, a contemporary art venue based in Chicago since 2003. Together they formed WOW Frequency, which showcases emerging and established artists in Chicago right inside the coffee shop.

If you’re ever in the area (next to Humboldt Park) and are in the mood for coffee or tea, or if you just want to taste one of Chicago’s best pop tarts (Interurban Cafe & Pastry Shop’s pop tarts, which are sold at C&S, were dubbed by Chicago Magazine as one of the best pop tarts in the city), I guarantee you’ll be happy you stopped here.

Cup & Spoon WOW Frequency Launch Party.
Cup & Spoon WOW Frequency Launch Party. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago
Today Ennis set up his easel at Cup & Spoon to work on his latest painting. It's awesome to watch him create. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago.
Today Ennis set up his easel at Cup & Spoon to work on his latest painting. It’s awesome to watch him create. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago.
Pop Tarts sold at Cup & Spoon. Flavors: Apple Cinnamon, Plum Caramel, Strawberry Vanilla & Blueberry Orange. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago
Pop Tarts sold at Cup & Spoon. Flavors: Apple Cinnamon, Plum Caramel, Strawberry Vanilla & Blueberry Orange. Photo courtesy of Facebook.com/CupandSpoonChicago
Me at Logan Square Farmer's Market, holding a cardboard cutout of the logo.
Me at Logan Square Farmer’s Market, holding a cardboard cutout of the logo.

World’s largest zombie gathering

Saturday, Oct 5, 2013, marked the World’s Largest Gathering of Zombies by Guinness World Record™. It all went down on the Asbury Park Boardwalk in New Jersey. 9,592 undead turned out for the NJ Zombie Walk to reclaim the title from the current record breaking event which took place at the 8th annual The Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Midway Stadium on Oct 13, 2012.
nj zombie walk 2013 record breaking photo
screen shot take from njzombiewalk.com
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there before the gates closed for counting but I was definitely there in spirit and in costume. My boyfriend, who had taken classes in special effects and has always been inspired by the work of Tom Savini (Dawn of The Dead, etc.), decided it would be fun if he got me into character for the event. He hadn’t done makeup in a while so it was partly experimentation, but we both enjoyed the process and transformation and had a lot of fun taking pics.

THE TOOLS

makeup tools laid out on bed
Tools used for the makeup included: bottle of liquid latex, fake red and black blood, ben nye products, paint brushes, cotton balls, eyeliner, stipple sponge, baby oil/mineral oil, elmer’s glue stick, rubbing alcohol.
various paint brushes used for makeup various markers used for makeup fake blood and other makeup tools makeup tools laid out on bed makeup tools laid out on bed

THE PROCESS

latex and cotton application to build up features
latex and cotton application to build up features

black makeup application around eyes and mouth first layer of makeup and detailing mean zombie face

close up of zombie face
I purchased fake zombie teeth to enhance the effect. They’re a little clunky but funny looking.
latex on hands
We added nails and covered my hands really quick just to help them match my face. By the time we got to the boardwalk it was already peeling.

latex makeup mask in full zombie makeup on the street

 

latex makeup mask
The grease makeup prevented the latex from sticking to every part of my face. By the time the night was over, I just cut the mask in half and peeled it off my face, leaving only the edges.

latex makeup mask

after makeup/latex is removed
the latex peeled off, but getting it off my hairline and neck took time. I used uni-solve (used in hospitals) and it worked great. The green around my mouth is food coloring that I used to darken my teeth and the edges of my skin underneath the latex.

3DEA: 3D Pop-up Print Store in NYC

If you still have AOL (like me), or frequent Huffington Post, you might have already read the story on HuffPost’s Weird News about 3D Dildo Print-Outs from 3DEA. Ironically, I hadn’t. So it wasn’t until I came across the pop-up 3D printing store 3DEA on 6th avenue and W 29th St. that I got a chance to see where the future lies for 3D printing. Dildos did not seem to be present (perhaps because they were all sold out, or because this looked to be a family-friendly environment), but I did get to browse and see some other rather interesting things.

To read more about the vendors, such as Ultimaker and ShapeShot (creator of the dildos), take a visit to the shop’s site. 3DEA runs until Dec. 27 and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11a-7p and Sundays from 11a-6p.

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA, a pop-up 3D printing store in New York City

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave) 3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

3DEA: A pop-up 3D print store in NYC (West 29th and 6th Ave)

Photo by Weegee

Google ‘street photography’ and many of the images will be of some place and time in NYC, most of them black & white with some edge of grittiness. Not all of them will be of actual streets, since the term is more correctly used to describe any photography made in public places, such as parks, subways or even shopping malls. But more times than not, they feature people, often candidly, going about their day.

Now Google ‘street photography weegee’ and you’ll not only get photos relating to NYC, but there will inevitably be dead bodies included in the mix.

Google image results for 'street photography'
Google image results for ‘street photography’
Google image results for 'street photography'
Google image results for ‘street photography weegee’

Weegee, whose real name is Arthur Fellig, was a photographer and photojournalist who popularized flash photography in his method for achieving gritty, high contrast, black and white images. If you were smart enough to purchase the Living Social voucher for the International Center of Photography (ICP), and actually used it, you likely saw the exhibition Weegee: Murder is my Business, which just ended yesterday, September 2nd.

Weegee was dubbed the photographer of Murder Inc. because of his ‘coverage’ of many mafia-related killings during the 1930s and 1940s.  In a time when organized crime was at its peak and dead bodies strewn on the sidewalk and rooftop were commonplace, Weegee’s photos portrayed death in a fashion not unlike the way he did  life – a candid photo of someone going about their day. Except for these people, their life ended while the day continued on.

While seeing a dead body is something intriguing to many people, what most surprised me about Weegee’s work was how unfazed many bystanders were at the site of a violent death. Kids hanging out the window overlooking a body riddled with bullets, couples posing for their 15 minutes of fame while they stand over a blood stained corpse. Weegee, himself, even said that he took more interest in the living rather than the dead when it came to a documenting a crime scene because of the reaction (or lack thereof) that it evoked in people. What also interested me was his relationship with the police. The level of priority and clearance he was given is something that would never exist today. Because of his close proximity to the police station and his own alarm system, there were times when he would even get to the crime scenes before the cops, and very commonly case the scene and provide to his own conclusion of what happened.

You can find a lot of Weegee’s photos in his book Naked City, though I should warn that some reviews on Amazon claim many of the images from this reproduced work appear to be scanned from the original 1945 version instead of the original images, and that another one Weegee’s New York: Photograpphy 1930-1960 is a better buy because it provides large beautifully printed reproductions on glossy paper. I’m certain, however, that whichever you chose, you’ll get a true depiction of what NYC was really like during the 30s and 40s.

Bobbi and The Strays Animal Shelter in Freeport, Long Island

Anyone who knows me, knows how deeply I love animals. And when I meet someone who possesses that same compassion, I feel like telling the world about them. A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a co-worker of mine, and she told me a story that I will never forget. When she was 10 years old, while she was in the car with her mother, she saw two dogs run across the street very close to one another other, as though they were tied together. She soon found out that they were – with barbed wire. Seeing this, she jumped out of the [stationary] car, ran over to these two stray dogs, and removed the barbed wire with her bare hands, all while her mother was yelling at her to come back to the car. Another co-worker of mine recently told me a story about how after weeks and weeks of seeing a sick puppy being treated at the vet for Distemper and Parvovirus, she took the dog home to give him the love and personal care he needed to nurse him back to health, only to spend a week with him before he died.

These may not seem like heroic acts in the scheme of things, but to an animal lover like myself, it makes me feel so good to know that there are people out there who love animals as much as I do and will do whatever they can to help make life better for them.

Which brings me to the reason for my post. For the past few months, I have been volunteering at Bobbi & The Strays, a 100% non-profit no-kill animal rescue organization, located in New York – with an adoption center in Queens and a shelter on Long Island.

They rescue stray dogs and cats from the streets, and from situations of abuse and neglect, as well as from “death row” at kill shelters in New York. The organization was started in the summer of 1995, by Roberta “Bobbi” Giordano. Bobbi was driving on a busy street when she saw a car strike a dog and then drive away. She immediately came to the dog’s aid, taking him to a vet for care. Sadly, the dog had a broken back and was unable to be saved. Although Bobbi had always been helping animals, having done her first rescue at the age of nine, it was this experience that was the pivotal one. Soon after, Bobbi quit her job in order to turn her passion for helping animals into a full-time mission. In 1998 she established Bobbi and the Strays.

Roberta “Bobbi” Giordano

I discovered this organization with a simple Google search. When I found it, I saw all of the great ways to volunteer on their site. I immediately wanted to become a Bobbi Buddy (ie: people who enjoy the company of a dog but cannot foster or adopt due to time or housing restraints; they take the dog to local parks, beaches, training sessions, etc.) so I quickly called and left a message. To my slight disappointment, I was informed that before I could become a Bobbi Buddy, I needed to go through a dog walking orientation, as well as fulfill hours walking the dogs and learning the ropes at the shelter of how it operates. I realized that, although my desire to immediately become a Buddy couldn’t happen, their rules and protocol were put in place for a reason, and I was more than happy to oblige. With a few months of dog walking on the weekends under my belt, I finally become a Bobbi Buddy to Tasha, an adorable 10 year old black and white beagle who loves to play catch with tennis balls.

Tasha

Yesterday was my 4th weekend with Tasha. I took her to Gardiner County Park in Bayshore, Long Island, an amazingly beautiful dog-friendly park (not a dog park – there are no unleashed areas). It possesses everything which makes an ideal place for dog owners to go with their pets. It has tons of grassy areas to sit/picnic; both separate no-dogs allowed picnic areas, as well as dog-friendly picnic spots; benches sprinkled throughout, especially by the pond; easy-to-walk trails; a beach; a water pump to clean off; poop bags, garbage pails and restrooms. Not to mention free parking, friendly and considerate pet owners, and a clean environment for everyone. I’m not sure it gets any better than that.

Tasha got some needed exercise and socialization, and I got to spend time dog watching and enjoying the day. Even though it makes me sad knowing that I can’t bring her home for good, giving her the type of day all dogs should have, made me really happy. I try to still make time to walk the other dogs at the shelter, and know that even 1 hour of time makes a big difference. While the dogs do get walks, they’re mostly confined to their kennels/runs. Being able to spend a little time with them outside, one-on-one lets you get a better idea of their personality. And working alongside the staff and other volunteers reinforces the fact that there are people in this world who love animals as much as I do. One person in particular at the shelter, Sonia, the kennel manager, always has a smile on her face. Even when she’s down in the trenches, cleaning the kennels, walking the dogs or feeding them, whether it’s early in the day or late at night, she always greets me with a smile, and expresses her appreciation for the little time I am able to volunteer. She is a real asset to that shelter and I like seeing her when I am there. I do not know all the names of the many volunteers and employees, but the ones I do know (Tracey, Tara, Michelle, Mary and Matt) also make my time there enjoyable and worthwhile.

Tasha is just one of dozens of dogs at the shelter. They also house over a hundred cats, and are constantly caring for any that need medial attention and treatment. Below are just a few of the many animals waiting to be adopted to a forever home, or just looking for someone to spend time with. If  you’re interested in volunteering, donating or fostering, you can do so through their website, which is user-friendly and has continuously updated content. A contribution in any form is invaluable to their efforts. And if you are looking to add a dog or cat to your home, PLEASE, consider adoption over purchasing from a store or kennel. Bobbi and the Strays have purebreds, and there are also tons of rescue groups who are trying to find homes for specific purebreds. [Ironically] you can find some listed on the American Kennel Club’s website, and of course using Google.

Alpha & Athena
Bailey & Rumpole
Bronx
Cheetah
Frankie
King
Maryann
Misty Blu
Samantha
Tony & Carmella

Chachke Chick

I tend to associate the word Chachke (more correctly spelled Tchotchke) with people who have nothing better to do than collect worthless trinkets and display them amongst the clutter in their home. Which makes sense, since according to Wikipedia, the term has a connotation of worthlessness and has long been used by Jewish-Americans and in the regional speech of New York City. (The word “tchotchke” derives from a Slavic word for “toys.” Apparently, tchotchkes are often given at Chanukkah as part of a game.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised then, when after admiring my souvenirs from my last trip I realized that I was a Chachke Chick. Considering I am 1/2 Jewish and from NY, this would be the only justifiable reason for it. That, and probably because I consider myself a sentimental person. I admit that I am guilty of buying these cheap souvenirs. I enjoy squeezing them into my already over packed luggage, so I can then take them home to add to my expanding collection of trinkets, or just admire them for a day and then pack them into another case for safe keeping. I’ve even gotten my family into chachke collecting, though not voluntarily.

When I recently returned from my trip to San Francisco and reflected on my chachke shopping, I thought about how many other things I had brought home or collected over the years, or better yet given to my family. I started to wonder if every time I gave someone something they secretly rolled their eyes. But then I realized something. Although these toys might be worthless to everyone but the person who buys it, they most certainly do have value. For me, each time I look at them, I’m reminded of where I was, who I was with, the type of day, the weather, and everything else associated with that moment. Who’s to say that the only things worth buying and collecting are those that cost tons of money? Yeah, maybe they’ll have a great resale value in 50 years, but should I forego buying a memorable souvenir simply because it didn’t make me broke? I think not.

And so, when I came back from SF, I brought with me:

  • 4 ceramic vases with bamboo stitching from Chinatown – thoughtfully signed by the artist
  • A toothpick holder, tree magnet and wine bottle cork, all from Muir Woods
  • Two spoons (that can be used as necklace charms) I bought from a street vendor that have little images of SF, covered in colorful beads and coated in resin
  • A hat made to look like a cat, that I bought from a woman on a street corner (perhaps this doesn’t really constitute a chachke, but nevertheless it’s on the list.
  • A pin from the hotel I was staying at (Hotel Des Arts), promoting one of their artists

While some of these do serve a purpose, a few of them really don’t. However, I will say that I made it a point to buy something that was built or created in SF. When I’m visiting a city/town I want to support that community, and so I would rather buy a spoon covered in resin from a guy that lives in SF, than some expensive scarf made in Malaysia.

Hotels des Arts

I recently visited San Francisco and stayed at Hotel des Arts in the French Quarter (tucked between Union Square, the Financial District and the Chinatown Gate). Despite it’s not-so-artsy surroundings, the interior more than makes up for it. Although their website does give a description of what they’re all about, it lacks the true character this place has. The concept for the hotel (which really looks and functions more like a nice hostel) is to showcase work of artists from all over the world in every room and throughout the building. The result is an eclectic mix of eye candy from the minute you arrive at the front desk to when you tuck yourself into bed.

When you enter the building you have the choice to either walk upstairs to reception or take a ride in the retro fire engine red elevator with black gates. The space is clean and bright and does a good job of really putting the focus on the artists. I stayed in the room by Kate Durkin. The staff is friendly and helpful and there are free maps for the taking. Being that it does function more like a hostel, you run into the high likelihood of noisy neighbors, which I experienced. This is of no fault of the hotel, but just a warning to some of the type of people it attracts – young adults who act like they’re still in college. All in all though it definitely added to my SF experience. My friend and I stayed there together, and the vastly diverse amount of artwork was always a topic of discussion between us. If you’re a 20-40 something, appreciate a new experience, and neither need nor want the amenities and pampering of hotels, this is definitely the place to stay.