Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Report: Galway Bay

I haven't done a book report in a while because even though I've been reading quite a bit, I haven't found anything I've been dying to share with you guys. Well, that changed when I read Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly.

Galway Bay follows the journey of Honora Keeley and six generations of her family. Honora is born and raised in a small fishing village on Galway Bay. She falls in love and starts her own family in the "before times." Then, blight strikes the potato crop and famine takes over the Galway countryside. Honora vows that her children will live, and sets off with them to make the long journey to Chicago, where they continue to weather the hardships that came with being Irish.

Honora narrates the novel in the great tradition of Irish storytelling. Even though it's a long book at 576 pages, I didn't want to put it down because Honora herself was so captivating. The book is peppered with Irish folktales that were passed down to her by her grandmother, as well as tidbits of Irish language, history, and politics. It's a gripping, truly epic tale that inspires the reader.

One of my 30 Before 30 items is to research my family's genealogy. Coincidentally, I started doing that at the same time I began this book. My family has a very proud Irish heritage, and I recently learned that many of my ancestors came to America during the Great Famine. Through Honora's words, I saw the faces of my great-great-great-great grandparents trying to keep their children alive during the Famine and escaping with them on boats to America. I pictured my grandfather growing up in an Irish-American neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, and myself as a little girl on his lap, listening to the stories he learned from his grandparents. I remembered my time spent living in Ireland, learning Irish history and the Irish language, and seeing Galway Bay for myself. If you've never been to Ireland, this book will make you want to go.

I cried when I finished this book and promptly ordered a copy for my grandmother. I hope it will finally convince her to let me take her to Ireland. A+

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Prepare Your iPhone Before Vacation

One of the major differences in travel now versus travel 10 years ago is the ubiquity of smartphones. My iPhone is an invaluable travel partner, but only if I'm prepared. Before your next vacation, spend a little time preparing your iPhone to achieve its maximum potential with the following tips.

Download apps
On my iPhone, I have an entire folder full of apps I only use while traveling. I always have my airline's app loaded up with my itinerary, and I keep push notifications turned on so that I'm the first to know about any changes. There are also third party flight trackers like TripTracker that accomplish the same thing. I also download my mobile boarding pass to the Passbook app that comes pre-loaded on all iPhones because paper boarding passes are a pain.

Make space
If you're like me, you end up using your phone for most of your picture-taking on vacation. In South America, I ran out of storage on my phone and had to use Adam's for the last couple of days. In Dubai, I was determined to not let that happen again, and I deleted all the photos from my phone before we left. However, 3 days in, that pesky "memory full" message popped up. What I realized is that my iPhone saves every single photo I send or receive via text or iMessage. I had 3.5 GBs of photos in my Messages app! To delete those photos:

  1. Open a text message thread and click on "details" in the top right corner.
  2. Scroll down, and you'll find a gallery of all your attachments from that thread.
  3. If you press and hold down on a photo, the option to delete it will pop up.
  4. Repeat 1-3 until you have plenty of storage available.

Download entertainment for the journey (and delete it when you're done)
Download podcasts to listen to on the plane, and make Spotify playlists and Amazon Prime videos available offline. Some of my favorite podcasts are Freakonomics Radio, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and 99% Invisible.

Take photos of important documents
Keep a photo of your passport and/or driver's license on your phone, in case you lost it or it gets stolen. Take a photo of the contents of your checked bag in case the airline loses it. I also like to snap a photo of my hotel room number once I arrive because I can sometimes be forgetful after a long day of exploring.

These next tips are for international travelers only.

Get a local SIM card OR call your carrier and set up a data roaming package
The great part about the iPhone is that you can use it anywhere around the world, but you'll have to make at least one modification first. You have two options for cellular data while abroad: getting a local SIM card, or setting up a data package with your US carrier.
To get a SIM card, Google your model of phone plus the name of the country you'll be visiting and "SIM card." They typically cost around $10-20, and then you can get service through a local cellular provider. Your phone must be unlocked for a local SIM to work, though.
If that sounds like too much of a hassle, you can prepay for a small amount of roaming data through your US provider. We are Verizon customers, so 100 MB of data costs just $25. We put it on just one of our phones (typically mine) and use it only in emergencies. For 10 days in South America, we used less than 30 MBs, and we used only 11 MBs in Dubai.

When you get there, turn off your data
Go to Settings > Cellular, and switch off "Cellular Data." Then, click on "Roaming," and switch off "Voice Roaming." You should also switch off the ability to use cellular data for most of your apps (at the bottom of the "Cellular" screen) because you don't want them running in the background and using up your precious data.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lately I'm Loving: ClassPass

It has now been a little over month since I signed up for ClassPass, and I think I'm addicted. I have gone to 19 classes so far!

ClassPass, for those who haven't heard of it, is an unlimited pass for boutique fitness classes. For $99/month (or $79/month in some places), you can go to as many classes as you want every month. In Chicago, there are over 150 studios that participate. Pretty much anything you can think of is offered, from yoga to kickboxing to dance classes to rowing.

ClassPass is perfect for me for a few reasons:
1) I hate gyms. I recently canceled my gym membership because I just never went. I get bored easily at the gym, and I often find it intimidating, especially in the weight room.
2) The price. At $99/month, ClassPass is a bit pricey, but I find that paying that amount motivates me to get my money's worth. Many of these studios charge $20 or more per class. If I go to 5 classes a month, I know I'm just breaking even. If I go to 15, I know I'm getting a steal.
3) Variety is the spice of life. I love that I can try lots of new things, so I never get stuck in a rut. I have taken spin classes, barre classes, hardcore HIIT classes, and even aerial yoga. This variety has helped me to discover new things. For instance, I apparently love spinning! I also get to check out neighborhoods in the city that I rarely visit.
4) The schedule. One reason gyms never work for me is because there's no scheduled start time. I can vaguely say, "I'm going to go to the gym today," but often, I wouldn't go, or I would go and only stay for 30 minutes. It's a lot more motivating knowing I have a specific class at a specific time, and I can't arrive late or leave early. Also, ClassPass charges you $20 if you cancel a class less than 12 hours beforehand or if you just don't show up. This forces me to go work out, even when I don't really feel like it.
5) It travels. I haven't taken advantage of this yet, but you can use your ClassPass in any city where it's offered. My best friend lives in Saint Louis and just signed up, so I can't wait to go visit her and take a class.
6) It's fun! I seriously enjoy working out and look forward to it all day.

All of these factors have helped me become a healthier person overall. It's motivated me to eat healthier food, drink more water, and prioritize my time better. My newly discovered love of spinning makes me want to get my real bike out of storage and possibly attempt a triathlon this summer. I can already tell that I'm building muscle and becoming a better runner. I even sleep better!

Anyone else addicted to ClassPass? What classes should I try?

***Disclaimer: I have not been paid to say any of this. I just really like ClassPass!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

International Women's Day 2015

March is Women's History Month in the US, and today is International Women's Day. Often, these occasions focus on women who have been involved in the suffrage and women's rights movements, but I'd like to shed some light on other very important women of all colors and backgrounds.

Althea Gibson
Gibson was one of the first women to cross the color line in the sports of tennis and golf, two sports that continue to be mostly for white, moneyed men. Her parents were sharecroppers in on a cotton farm in South Carolina before moving to Harlem during the Great Depression, where Gibson picked up paddle tennis and then tennis. During her professional tennis career, Gibson won 11 Grand Slams. After retiring, she focused on a singing career and eventually picked up golf. She became the first Black woman to join the LPGA tour at the age of 37.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Inspired by Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence, Suu Kyi entered politics in 1988 to help her native Burma end its brutal military dictatorship and achieve democracy. She spoke out against the rule of dictator U Ne Win, and created the National League for Democracy. Her efforts won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Unfortunately, it also made her a prisoner, and she spent 15 out of 21 years under house arrest. She was finally released from house arrest in 2010. In 2012, she was elected to the Parliament, and has announced her intention to run for president in 2015.

Jeannette Rankin
Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in the United States. She was elected to represent Montana in 1916, before women's right to vote was secured in the Constitution. A lifelong pacifist, her two terms in Congress coincided with the U.S.'s entry into the two World Wars. Both times, she voted against declaring war. She was the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war after the Pearl Harbor attacks. She considered running for Congress in her 90s in order to protest the Vietnam War.

Maria Tallchief
Tallchief is often considered America's first prima ballerina. A Native American from the Osage tribe, Tallchief grew up on a reservation in Oklahoma before beginning her ballet career with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. There, she met George Balanchine. When Balanchine founded the New York City Ballet in 1946, he created several roles with Tallchief in mind. She originated the lead role in Firebird, the dual roles of Odette and Odile in Balanchine's version of Swan Lake, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker.

Eva Perón

After visiting Buenos Aires in November, I had to throw Ms. Perón in here. Born in rural Argentina, Perón moved to Buenos Aires at the age of 15 to become an actress. She eventually became a radio star and founded her own entertainment business. She met Juan Perón at a fundraiser and they were married in 1945, one year before he was elected president of Argentina. During her tenure as First Lady, Perón used her position to fight for causes she believed in, like women's suffrage and rights for workers and the poor. Her foundation, the Eva Perón Foundation, gave scholarships to poor children, built hospitals, schools, and homes for impoverished Argentine communities, and gave out things like pots, pans, sewing machines to the poor. When she died at the age of 33 from uterine cancer, 3 million people attended her funeral.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards

I really only care about the Oscars for the fashion. I rarely see any of the films nominated, and the ceremony is almost always long and dull. This year, I went to bed before the final awards were handed out because the thing ran 30 minutes over, and it was already past my bedtime. C'est la vie. But these were my favorite moments.

Best Dressed: Anna Kendrick or Dakota Johnson

This is a tie for me. Both ladies looked absolutely gorgeous on the red carpet in simple gowns with blinged out elements. I think Dakota's dress was slightly more appropriate for the occasion, but Anna had the whole package with the perfect jewelry, hairstyle, and makeup.

Worst Dressed: Felicity Jones

This dress was so horribly unflattering with the gathered pleats on the hips. She looks 20 pounds heavier than she actually is, and the color washed her out. Such a disappointment from someone who's looked great all awards season.

Best Dressed Man: Common

He inexplicably changed for his performance and win, but I loved the velvet jacket with the diamond lapel pin he wore on the red carpet.

Worst Dressed Man: John Travolta

That chain. No.

Best Moment of the Show: Lady Gaga's The Sound of Music Tribute


Girl's got some pipes. Also, I screamed when Julie Andrews came out at the end.

What were your favorite bits of Oscars 2015?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lately I'm Loving: Orphan Black

The other day, Adam said to me, "I miss binge-watching Parks and Rec with you." Well, hey, that's easily remedied! A quick flip through Amazon Prime, and we decided on Orphan Black because I'd heard it's pretty good and Adam loves science fiction. Next thing we knew, we'd plowed through the first four episodes.

The show starts out with Sarah, an adult orphan with a troubled past. Sarah sees a woman jump in front of a train, which is troubling, but even more troubling is that the woman looks identical to her. In order to escape her past, Sarah decides to assume the woman's identity, but quickly discovers that she's taken on a lot more than she bargained for.

It's nearly impossible to review this show without giving away any spoilers, so I'll just say that the acting in this show is superb, and the writing is interesting and whip-smart. The characters are messy, damaged, real people. Sarah is a bit of an anti-hero, but that's what makes the show so compelling. The suspense always keeps you on the edge of your seat (or sometimes hiding underneath your blanket, if you're anything like me).

Season 3 is scheduled to premiere in April on BBC America, but you can stream season 1 for free and season 2 for a fee on Amazon Prime now.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

South America Trip: Santiago

We had two options for getting from Mendoza to Santiago: flying or driving. The two cities are very close to one another, but there's a slight obstacle in the middle known as the Andes Mountains. We figured we couldn't pass up the opportunity to cross one of the world's great mountain ranges, so we opted to hire a private driver and make the journey.

This ended up being one of the best decisions of the trip. One of the benefits of hiring the private driver instead of just taking the bus was that we were able to pull over at various scenic overlooks along the way.

This is Puente del Inca, a naturally formed bridge over the Vacas River made of mineral deposits that have built up over thousands of years. 

That snow-covered peak behind us is Aconcagua, the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalayas.

Once we crossed into Chile, we had to go back down the mountains. These are a few of the infamous 30 hairpin turns that drivers descend in a two-mile span.

We were fortunate to make very good time. We sped through immigration and customs at the Chilean border and were at our hotel in Santiago by lunch time! Once we got checked in, we set out to explore our neighborhood, Providencia.

The building in the center of this photo is the tallest in South America. It's still being built on the inside.

We weren't sure what to expect of Santiago, but we quickly found it was a very enjoyable city. It reminded me of a much-larger Denver because of its location near the mountains and the generally active and outdoorsy population. There are a lot of parks, and we saw tons of people out biking and running. On our second morning, I took a run partway up Cerro San Cristóbal. Coming from Chicago, I was not prepared for running such a steep hill, but I was rewarded with this view.

Our second day in Santiago was our big sight-seeing day. We bought lots of lapis lazuli jewelry at the Mercado Santa Lucía before climbing Cerro Santa Lucía itself.

We walked down to Plaza de Armas, which was unfortunately closed off for construction. We saw the Cathedral there before walking to the Mercado Central and then to the presidential palace, Palacia de la Moneda.

For lunch, we tried out a couple of local specialties. We went to a local fast food chain called Domino for a completo italiano, a hot dog topped with mashed avocado, mayonnaise, and chopped tomatoes. (It earned the name italiano because it's the color of the Italian flag.) It was amazing, and now Adam is completely obsessed.

For dessert, we ate some mote con huesillo. This was being sold by countless street vendors, so we figured we had to try it. It's made with wheat kernels topped with peach nectar and dried peaches on top. It was a little strange, but pretty tasty.

After lunch, we explored the Bellavista neighborhood before taking the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristóbal. This was probably my favorite activity in Santiago. The views of the city were stunning from the top.

Taking it all in

At the very summit is a shrine to the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception.
Travel buds for life. (On my wrist, you can see my lapis lazuli bracelet I bought.)

We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with happy hour. We tried the national drink of Chile, the pisco sour. Pisco is a hotly contested issue among Chileans and Peruvians because both populations claim to have invented the type of brandy. The main difference between a Chilean pisco sour and a Peruvian pisco sour is that Chileans don't use egg white, so theirs aren't as fluffy. Anyway, we had two apiece and were feeling pretty good about the Chilean version. Someday, we'll have to go to Peru so we can compare.

The next morning, we headed off to do some more drinking. The four of us along with two retired British couples made the 90-minute drive to the Casablanca Valley for a day of wine tours. The countryside was beautiful and the wine was delicious.

My favorite winery of our entire trip was Kingston Family Vineyards. They make small but high quality batches of wine. They use a lot of methods you don't see at other wineries because the cost is very high, like using stainless steel barrels instead of tanks and aging the wine in three different types of oak. Their passion for wine-making really shows through in their product. If you're ever in Chile, I highly recommend making a visit.

After a long day of boozing, we decided to relax in our room for the evening. We'd been reading all over town about this thing called Teletón. Our wine tour guide explained that it's a fundraiser for sick and disabled children, and that it's been going on for decades. We decided to check it out and got hooked! Stars from all over Chile and Latin America perform on the telethon and at a big concert on the final night. We watched several hours of the coverage that night and the next day. We watched it so much that we even learned the songs they sing! They ended up raising over $58 million dollars, including a few that I donated.

This is Don Francisco. He's the man.

Our final day was pretty rainy, so we stayed close to home. We checked out the Costanera Center, the biggest mall in South America. By US standards, it's not that big, but we had fun seeing lots of American stores and restaurants, like Hard Rock Cafe and Applebee's.

It was all decorated for Christmas, which made me laugh because it was 80+ degrees outside.

Adam and I visited the Museum for Memory and Human Rights and learned about the Pinochet era in Chile's recent history. It was a somber but beautiful museum, and I learned a lot about Chile's history and government.

We had a fantastic trip! We had lots of good food and even more wine. I learned a lot on this trip. I was surprised by how much my Spanish improved in just a few days. I would definitely like to explore more of South America after this trip, but our first journey to the continent was an unforgettable adventure.