Category Archives: travel

5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.

This East Coast woman has been living in California the last almost-month, predominately in Irvine, with stints to LA, Hemet, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach. What I did not expect was to experience complete and utter culture shock in my mother’s own home state. So what I plan to do in this post is to give all of you attending an Indian wedding for the first time some tips for getting through the multitude of events you are about to experience.

My current S.O. is Indian, and as part of this trip, I attended the wedding of the fantastic N. & N. (names redacted to protect the spiderphobic subjects of this post). I’ve been to all sorts of weddings, and for crying out loud, I study and teach both religions (Jainism/Islam) covered by this wedding. I’ve heard stories of other weddings and seen my fair share of Bollywood movies. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for these series of days.

Yes, days. We actually missed one of the first events, being held on a Wednesday, or otherwise, it would have been a Wednesday thru Saturday celebration. Traditional American weddings: take notes.

I won’t bore y’all with the details of every single ceremony (by my count, we attended at least 6 separate things spread out from Orange County to the LAX Hilton), but I thought I would share some things I’ve learned about myself and my new partner’s traditions while attending the various portions of this wedding week.

(Thanks to N&N if they’re reading this for inviting me to be a part of their special week. But seriously, y’all, stop getting married. What are you up to, 15 separate sets of vows?)

5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.
1) Let’s start with “bring aspirin.” Unless you’re a dancer used to dancing barefoot, parts of your body you didn’t even know could hurt will hurt for 2-3 days afterward. And yes, part of this may be a “Holly needs to be in better shape” issue, but part of it definitely was a lack of arch support. And with regards to arch support, in the immortal words of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

2) Aunties are your friend. No seriously, collect them like Pokémon or POGs. Aunties will help you redo your sari when the pleats get screwed up (they will), will reattach your bindi, and will explain to you what the hell is going on with all the ceremonies you’ve never seen before (assuming you’re white or non-Indian like me). They are basically G-d’s gift to first-time wedding-goers. Ask questions. Many people from the community my own age didn’t even know what was going on (Indian traditions are so varied, after all), so chances are you’re not the only one with questions.

3) Prepare to be emotionally and physically wiped. Seriously. You’re going to be active for 15 hours a day. And most of what you experience is going to be brand new and wonderful, from the music, to the food, to the conversations. There will be so much sensory input your brain is honestly just going to get tired. And after your third night of only 5 hours of sleep, you’re going to get cranky. Plan ahead, stay hydrated, and remember, you will have fond memories of your experience (G-d willing) after you get some much-needed sleep. (And you will need sleep. Prepare to take an entire day off after the last event).

4. Don’t be surprised when you start picking up on Hindi/Indian vernacular words in future conversations. You absorbed a lot more than you realized the last few days. This literally just happened to me. Some woman on my plane literally just hollered “Chalo!” (Let’s go!) at her kid. (If you’ve ever travelled to the Middle East, this is gonna be your “yalla.”) My head whipped up like I was being yelled at. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start acclimating to the new culture and traditions you find yourself surrounded by.

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5. Finally, embrace the sari. Or whatever clothing you wear, even if it’s Western. I was terrified of the sari for the first hour I wore it. It wasn’t mine (Thanks, S., for letting me borrow yours!), it is different to wear than any other formal clothing I have ever worn, and I was terrified I was going to trip and munch it horribly. (I did, once. And I didn’t faceplant, so go me.) And know that there are probably at least 5 other people there just as uncomfortable for that first hour as you. At least two Indian women approached me to tell me I was wearing the sari well and asked me how often I’d worn them. They were shocked to find out it was my first time and responded that even they avoided them at all costs. What I’m trying to say is you’re going to be far more comfortable and confident than you thought you would be. Be prepared to kick off your shoes and dance for hours. Feel free to move and have fun in whatever you’re wearing, whether it be a sari, kurta, or suit.

So, hopefully the spirit intended by this list comes across. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but this is what has been mulling around in my mind since the wedding was over on Saturday (at 2 a.m.). On my way back to Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) now. Y’all have a pleasant sleep.

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New (Totally Awesome) Lyft Service in Tampa

So sometimes this blog deviates away from academia to travel.  Given I used a brand new form (to me) of transportation this trip, I figured I’d give them a shoutout.

I was in Tampa for the 2014 AAG National Conference, but my flight (through Allegiant Air) was out of St. Pete’s.  SuperShuttle wanted 56 bucks (what?? Hosers) to get me, so I started looking for other options.  My awesome partner-in-crime S. suggested Lyft, which I’d not heard of prior (I live in the sticks, y’all).

I'm seriously.

I’m seriously.

I downloaded the app and was immediately rewarded with 50 free rides in Tampa Bay.  Seriously.  50 free rides.  I asked my driver if this was going to affect his pay, and he said absolutely not.  So yeah, don’t feel guilty about using these free rides.  At all.  Why the free rides, you might ask?  Well, Lyft just opened up its market in Tampa four days ago, so they’re trying to boost business.

So anyways, back to using the service.  I of course had the typical raised-in-the-90s paranoia about strangers, but Lyft is awesome.  People sign up with their cars to give you a ride.  Drivers go through background checks and their vehicles go through safety inspections prior to being allowed into the fleet (clearly I did some research on their website).  They show up with a massive fuzzy pink mustache in their back window (their icon/symbol), and you are required to sit in the front seat and actually talk to your driver.  You pay completely thru the app (I thought the app allowed for tip, and if you can tip thru the app, I’m techno-stupid and couldn’t figure it out.  I’m so sorry, Collin!).

Say hi to Collin!

Say hi to Collin!

Speaking of Collin, my driver was awesome.  A graduate of USF, he actually got to work with Susan MacManus during the Bush/Gore election. The Susan MacManus.  In Florida. The national capital of hanging chads. Awesome.  We also talked about SEC football, family stories involving La Jolla, Calif., and the ridiculousness that is mass transit in Tampa and Atlanta.

This repartee is what sold me on Lyft.  I’m a naturally social person, so cab rides where I sit in the back seat through interminable minutes of awkward silence are just awful.  A taxi service focused on actually providing a fun ride instead of just a service is something I can totally get behind.  And the driver had a similar school background as me.  How awesome is that?

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit.  I'm on a lot of DayQuil.

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit. I’m on a lot of DayQuil.

Reservations are made through a smartphone app (sorry dumbphone users) and payment is made through the same app.  A receipt gets mailed to you immediately for those of you who need it for reimbursements or tax purposes.  And the fees are reasonable.  I was able to calculate my fare within a dollar before I even reserved.  When you pay, you can leave a review and vote 1-5 stars (Collin totally earned a 5).

So yeah, I wholeheartedly recommend Lyft.  Safe, clean car.  Awesome driver.  Totally convenient.  And given how G-dawful Tampa’s mass transit it, this service will be a blessing for both professionals in the city and people traveling for vacations.  Good choice, Tampa.  And thanks, Lyft.  I will definitely be using your service again.

“Grandma’s House”

When you’re a military brat (and I’m sure in many other kinds of childhoods, too), home is an ephemeral concept.  I could say to you “I’m so excited to be going home this weekend!” and unless there have been other context clues in the conversation, that could mean any number of cities (or states!).   But for me, my true home is Grandma’s house.

I’ve written other posts from the house in Brooklyn (MD) but never a post about the house in Brooklyn.  For me, this house will always be Grandma’s house, even though my aunt has lived here now for at least seven years.

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there's my brother's car!

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there’s my brother’s car!

It’s honestly nothing that special to the trained eye.  A rancher in Brooklyn Park, MD.  Full basement.  Sizable yard, good porch, driveway but no garage.  But for me, it’s home more than any other place.

It hasn’t always been “Grandma’s house.”  My (great-great-great?)-uncle Charlie (pronounced Chah-lie if you’re from Balmer – R’s usually belong only at the end of words) built it in (according to Zillow) 1964.  When his wife died, he asked my great-grandparents to move in with him (he was really old.  Like 90s) and help him keep up the house.  When he died, the house became theirs.

So I guess, for my aunt, uncle, and father, this house, too, for a time, was “Grandma’s house.”

When my great-grandmother died, my great-grandfather asked my grandparents to move in with him.  When he died, the house became theirs.  Noticing a theme?

I enter this house’s life a few years before my great-grandfather (Pop-Pop) died.  Some of my earliest memories involve eating strawberries at the kitchen table (the table that is now in my own apartment) and sneaking him 5th Avenue bars out of the fridge (if I could nab two without getting caught, I got to eat the second one.  What a good Pop-Pop).

After my great-grandfather died, my grandparents remained in the house.  The house became known in my head as “Gramma and Grampa’s house.”  It was the house where everyone came for holidays and birthdays.  I have vivid memories of spreading out newspaper on the kitchen table and 15 people cramming around a table that normally sat 6 to eat blue crabs.  Christmases were in the living room with every chair in the house dragged in so we could open presents.

It’s the house where my name is pronounced “Hally” (O’s don’t exist in Balmerese.  If you want a good laugh, get me to pronounce “Orange”).  Where “Oh my gaaaaaaad” can mean anything from surprise to empathy.  Where if something amazing happened, someone would yell out “Hot dog!”

I slept in the bed in “Grandma’s room” the night before my flight out to California last thursday  It hasn’t been Grandma’s room in nearly eight years, and the bed in there now certainly isn’t the one I jumped up and down on as a kid when the adults weren’t looking.  The bed promptly broke… and I had to frantically help my cousins put it back together (and by help, I mean play lookout).

My aunt moved back in sometime after my grandfather died (again… common theme) in 2001, and around 2007, my grandmother had to move into a home.  It’s really my aunt’s house now, but it’s almost impossible for me to think of it that way.  And I think that’s the case for my cousins too.  Cousin E. asked my aunt if I was staying with her that night or in “Grandma’s room.”  That’s what got me thinking about writing this post.

Another early memory is sleeping in my pop-up playpen in my grandmother’s room.  It was a special treat instead of sleeping in the “middle bedroom” with my parents.  And then later, sneaking episodes of Sliders and Boy Meets World with my older cousins when my parents had deemed me “too young” to watch such things.  I better not mention all the Ren and Stimpy…  My dad reads these posts.

I’m heading back to Baltimore today from Orange County.  Landing at 1:05 a.m. EDT, so I’m sure I’ll want to do nothing but sleep once I get back.  And as with many other trips and stays, my aunt is picking me up at BWI and taking me home.  Home to Grandma’s house.

The Impossible Pit: Satan, Hell, and Teaching With Doctor Who

For those of you who wanted to see my conference presentation, here it is in all its glory.  There’s a hiccup about 17 minutes in where my camera turned off and R. had to turn it back on.  Feel free to leave constructive feedback.  This is a shortened version of the full paper, which I am hoping to get published very soon.

ETA (01/30/2016):  If you are interested in the article (and have library access), please click here!

For forays into using comics in teaching, see my post Nerd Cred and Teaching with Ms. Marvel.

What is Life?

Sitting on our bed in our hotel room in Manchester, UK.  This probably won’t be the picture-heavy travelogue many of you were hoping for.  Don’t worry, that will come later.

After three days of traveling…

(BWI-->Heathrow-->Greater London-->Bishops Stortford-->Greater London-->Manchester)

(BWI–>Heathrow–>Greater London–>Bishops Stortford–>Greater London–>Manchester)

… much of which was on foot or cramped in a seat that even I don’t fit into, tonight has been a well-deserved respite.  Tonight, Ryan and I wandered around our tiny corner of Manchester, hitting up used book shops and ordering curry take-away.  We even hit up a Tesco’s for some beer before coming back to our room and eating our picnic of goodness on our bed (in PJs!).  Even having to put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint for tomorrow can’t mess up this good mood.

Just listened to George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass, Volume One” while taking a long soak in an Olympic-sized tub.  Listening to George Harrison in the north of England.  How much better can it get?

OK fine, you want a picture.  Here’s a picture (completely unedited) of the fish (of the fish and chips I hear are so popular here…) we had for dinner last night:

Ryan and O. for scale. According to our host, F., we basically at “half a whale.” My stomach agreed in the best possible way.

In Which an East Coaster proves the West Coast is Too Hard To Understand (Or at Least Itineraries…)

I’ve traveled quite a bit since I started college (not to mention all the family trips/moves with my parents).  My first international flight (to Jordan) was at 18, and while I was with a group of like 13, I like to think it was the start of my education in how to travel, travel smart, and travel well.

And I’ve done it a few more times since then, you know.  Iceland, Lebanon, Tokyo.  Not to mention countless in-country flights, road trips, train trips, bus trips.  I’ve survived the mishigas that is the Tokyo subway/train/shinkansen system, with students in tow.  I’ve driven 12 undergraduate students 5 hours in a GMC Savanna and not killed anyone.  I’ve learned how to carry a purse in a crowded city and how to dress for most occasions in most Levantine countries.

My partner and I had just finished a wonderful trip to Seattle to attend the wedding of two very good friends (and, of course, to do all the touristy things).  Last night, we’d tied up all the loose ends, checked out of the hotel, and turned the car in.  Everything was going to plan.

Or was it.

Imagine my shock when, having arrived at SeaTac yesterday, the self check-in terminal informed me I was not allowed to check in for my flight until after 11:15 p.m.  This seemed problematic, given my flight left at 11:10.  Right?  Right?

Not right.

I would like to point out at this point that my partner and I are relatively intelligent people.  We both have post-secondary degrees, are voracious readers, and like to think we can put down a few sentences on paper when the muse strikes.  We were those kids reading at a fifth grade level in the first grade.  We got beat up a lot on the playground.

A quick perusal of our itinerary proved that our red-eye back to Reagan (through Cincinnati, I might add) left on Monday.  Not arrived.  LEFT.

The next day.  Not today.

And we’d just checked out of everything.

My partner basically looked like this for a solid minute:

I was right there with him but tried to keep it together (and by keep it together, i mean giggle hysterically off and on for about 20 minutes as I freaked out on the phone with my brother and father).  I mean, it was better than being a day late (I assume.  I’ve never actually missed a flight), right?

I would like to thank the woman from Delta, whose name has escaped my mind as most names do, who calmed us down and gave us a voucher for a reduce-cost hotel room (and helped us figure out how to get to the hotel shuttle…) at the DoubleTree SeaTac.  As I sit here at terminal S5, I can see the DoubleTree we stayed at, and even from here, it looks pretty impressive.  Pros of DoubleTree:  warm, chocolate chip and walnut cookies at the counter, large comfy rooms, a shuttle to the airport.  Cons of DoubleTree:  they won’t take credit card info over the phone (they want a faxed authorization on a Sunday at 9:30 p.m. EDT) when you’re out of money and your father is going to cover the room for you (yes, I’m nearly 28 and I’m still that child), even when you’re hyperventilating-freakingout-upset.  I’m sure this is a holdover from the Conrad Hilton days, when faxes were cool.

So, at 8:30 last night, we checked into our room, complete with lake view, and settled in for the night, knowing the next day would be interesting.  The next morning, we made a quick jaunt across the street for breakfast (Jack in the Box!  Which I haven’t had since they closed the location next to Converse on East Main) and we came back to our room, enjoying a few more hours of comfort before The Long Wait.

Forced to check out at 12:30 p.m., and not having a flight out for 11 hours later, we hid in a side alcove of the lobby, borrowing internet and making frequent trips to refill our water bottle.  After five hours of that (including what I can only hope was a well-meaning, albeit nudzhy and mean, woman who yelled at us for having our feet up on a couch and then questioned our parents’ ability to raise us.  I would like to point out that my feet were far cleaner than the sandals I had so thoughtfully taken off so as to NOT get them on the couch, as I had just showered), we couldn’t stand it and got dinner (Subway! Eat subs!) before heading back to SeaTac.

There was a gutwrenchingly painful moment as the Delta self check-in machine paused as it processed my credit card where I thought I had somehow messed up again and we weren’t going to go home again.

It’s about 8 p.m. as I write this from terminal S5.  Our flight doesn’t board until 10:30.  I’d normally post this immediately, but it’s summer, and given our fun adjunct pay schedule, I can’t renew my domain until Friday’s paycheck (meaning y’all wouldn’t be able to actually read it).  And yes, I’m selfish enough to want to make sure people can actually read this when I publish it.  Comments and stats are a generally erstwhile blogger’s pay, dammit.

I would like to thank the wonderfully kind people at Delta, my brother, my father, my partner, and yes, even Hilton for making this, more than anything, a completely reasonable and downright hilarious hiccup in our travels.

So, after all that blathering, what, in fact, is the moral of my story?  Travel is always full of shocks and surprises.  Sometimes your back tire blows on the side of I-85, and in your rush to check it out, you lock your keys in your still-running car (but luckily still have your phone in hand) and have to make an embarrassing call to AAA (Fall 2012).  Sometimes you’re so excited to get dinner after a 9 hour drive from West Virginia to Charlotte, NC that you lock your keys in your still-running car at the restaurant and have to call the police (Fall 2004 – noticing a common theme here?) to pop your lock.  And sometimes, you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing and lock the keys to your rental in the trunk and have to call Pop-A-Lock, hoping your car has one of those newfangled levers inside that pops the trunk (It did.  Summer 2002).  But, generally, you do get a fun story out of the deal (or, if it’s not fun, the ability to kvetch about it for at least a month before your friends tell you to shut up).  And if you can share it on your blog, it takes out the sting out of the experience and makes you feel like less of a space cadet (or, at least, you keep telling yourself that…).

ETA (8:42):  Just had a minor freakout when I realized I hadn’t seen my house keys in 6 days (and also had no way to enter my grandmother’s house to get my car keys so we could drive HOME tomorrow).  Ripping my backpack apart THREE times and texting home once, my partner finally found them in the bottom corner of the backpack.  When I was five, my parents had a leash for me at DisneyLand to keep me from running off and getting lost.  I can now see why they thought that was a good idea.