Sunday, November 25, 2012

If I Can Make It There . . .

So a couple of weeks ago, the Great New York Adventure was commenced.  You already know how this trip came to be (if you've forgotten, I wrote about it here), so I thought you just might be interested to know how things went.

The secret of the trip was kept - my niece knew nothing about the trip until she had been whisked out of a last-period test to go to the airport - and I arrived at the airport just a few minutes after the rest of the crew, who shall now be known simply as Sister, Niece, and Mom.  Niece was about to shimmy with excitement at the mere thought of going to New York.  I still had a reservation or two, but I was resolved.  I took my iPad, but not my computer, determined to vacation and not work.  My classes would be fine.  (I will admit that I repeated that a few times over the next few days.) Sister had planned things very carefully, while still allowing for last-minute changes of plan.  Niece had made up her list of things she really wanted to do whilst in New York,  knowing that the trip would happen someday - I'm proud to say we hit every one of them, or at least came close enough to make her mark it as a hit.

So what did we do?  Walked a lot, that I can tell you!  We stayed out by LaGuardia (Queens) and got to know the bus and subway system - which really isn't (a) hard or (b) dangerous.  While I'm on that note, let me sing the praises of New Yorkers.  Keep in mind that we took our trip not two weeks after Superstorm Sandy had tap-danced all over the Tri-State area (the Statue of Liberty is still closed from Sandy - we took the free Staten Island Ferry to get our harbor view).  Garbage was piled up, since city sanitation trucks had been diverted from usual "pick up bagged trash" duty to "pick up house-sized heaps of what had been houses."  The tourist areas of Manhattan were up and running, but our hotel was full of FEMA types making appointments to see homeowners who had lost everything - especially hard hit areas included Staten Island and parts of Long Island.  Yet - and this is very important - everyone went out of their way to help us.  (Well, the lone exception might be the guy cadging change from us on a street corner in Flushing who compared me to Sharon Osbourne.  It was our first night in the city and we missed our stop and had to wait a good long while for the bus.  Safe to say, we stuck out a bit to the after midnight crowd.  No one hassled us, but it was clear that we were Not From Around Here.)  Seriously - all the bunk about New Yorkers being rude, short-tempered, and having no time for anyone else - disregard.  People helped us figure out which way we needed to go to get to the museum, how to put more money on a subway pass, how to USE a subway pass, etc., etc.  New York - it's a great city and go see it!

And don't be shy about playing tourist!  New York is one of the greatest cities in the world - dive into it!  We took a carriage ride in Central Park (pulled by a horse named "Charley" - get the joke?), we took one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours to get an overall feel for at least part of Manhattan, and we gawked.  We gawked at the view from "Top of the Rock," we gawked at the twinkly Christmas lights strung up in Saks Fifth Avenue, we gawked at the sheer mass of humanity in (the now Disneyfied and perfectly safe) Times Square, we even stepped into the Gilded Age glory of the lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria to gawk.  We took in the Broadway production of Wicked and even cynical backstage me got lost in the magic and the wonder.  We saw progress on the Freedom Tower which is being built on the site of the vanished Twin Towers and made an unexpected stop by St. Paul's, the oldest church in Manhattan which became a staging site for recovery efforts following 9/11.  (Make a point of going there.)  We took in both the Museum of Modern Art (sigh - "Starry Night" and a early version of Munch's "The Scream") and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (really - there just wasn't enough time.)  We took in the Lindt chocolate store (I joined the club) which is next door to the Swarovski crystal store (where I bought a pair of sparkly earrings that I will probably wear nearly every single day to justify how much I spent!)  Niece also spent hours in the American Girl doll store, blissed out of her gourd.  And all of us discovered how much fun a wax museum can be.  History, culture, and commerce - we hit it all!

Yeah, I missed a day of work.

But I didn't miss this trip and, by any scale you care to use, I believe I made the right call when it mattered.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Take a Walk!

As a kid, I was pretty active, although I was never especially athletic.  I grew up out in the country and my family had a firmly-held belief that small children were best kept out of trouble by frequent weeding of v-e-r-y long garden rows.  We also kept horses throughout most of my youth and I could curry a pony before I was taller than said pony's ears.  Further, my mother grew up in the mountains of southwest Virginia and instilled a love of hiking in me.  So it's reasonable that I grew up being quite happy tramping through the woods, roasting marshmallows over campfires and shivering in my sleeping bag knowing that the awful ghost stories probably weren't true, but still feeling my heart jump at every snapped twig.

Then I got older and More Responsible, which seems to involve spending a great deal of time in a stuffy office, hunched over a desk.  It's a funny thing, but after a certain height is achieved, it seems acceptable to "work out," but not to just "play outside."  Everything needs a goal, I suppose.  So, over the years, I've tried to have goal-oriented workouts, usually involving trying to get to that magic mark of ten thousand steps a day.  But I'm cheap, so I always had lousy pedometers that (a) didn't work, (b) broke easily, and/or (3) weren't especially accurate.  The pedometer would give up the ghost and, soon afterward, I'd quit, too.

About two weeks ago, I had the brainstorm of looking into whether the App Store had a free (I'm still cheap, you know!) pedometer app.  I don't have an iPhone, but I have an iPad through the school's technology initiative and I have to say, I've found it to be a very useful tool, although I still don't think it's the end-all, be-all. Not having an iPhone meant whatever I chose, I was going to have to carry the iPad with me so it could count my steps.  Would there by anything out there that could convince me to lug the iPad with me while walking the dog or turning laps on the college's walking track?

Turns out yes.

Let me recommend (and my technical services support guru is going to beam at the very idea of me recommending an app!) a lovely free app called Striiv.  This app not only counts your steps, it gives you frequent encouragement and points.  You can accept little challenges like "take 100 steps in the next 10 minutes" to earn points (more on that later) and when you figure out how easy it is to win a challenge, you grab the next one.  I've been using Striiv for not quite two weeks now and my average step count is over 8,100 steps (I've cracked 10,000 daily steps once).  It's not a race, but I have to admit that I like seeing the numbers go up.

What to do with those points?  Well, Striiv also comes with a game where you build an island.  I admit, I thought this was just lame, but now I'm hooked.  I've never gotten hooked on a game - I enjoyed video games Way Back When, but I've never been a real gamer.  (Exception noted for the movie quote puzzle game Enscripted, which I play every day over my first cup of coffee.)  But with this, I find myself forming strategy - what can I plant or build to earn enough coins to buy a Fire Maple?  Now how can I earn enough points to grow the Fire Maple to full size?

See - you start with just a hut and a tiki torch (OK, it's a "Prometheus Torch," the game has a certain Classical Greek vibe) that generate some coins.

Where I started - a hut and a torch!

You can save up the coins and buy other plants or structures, but you have to build/grow your new stuff through three additional stages before it's finished and will then generate more coins to buy more stuff.  And some things come with critters to roam your island.  Tap on those and they wave at you, the tiger swipes at you with a paw, and I now have an ostrich who (you guessed it) buries its head.

Plants, a fishpond, a vineyard, and a half-built Fountain of Youth!

Might be crazy, but for me, it's working.  Oops!  Gotta go - I need to earn enough points to build the next stage of my Fountain of Youth!