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What I Did on My Winter Vacation (Or, Notes from the Other Coast)

I have all of these interesting posts started--about incentives for being observant of mitzvot, about free will vs. determinism, about whether "beauty" is a natural or artificial state--but I can't seem to motivate myself to finish and edit them.

So, instead, I'll note a few interesting observations from my winter vacation.

Monday, December 25 found me up at the ungodly hour of 3:45 am, after only 1.5 hours of sleep, in time take the bus to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight to California via Texas. The first notable thing that happened was that as I approached the check-in line, I saw that I was behind a woman and two kids. Then her husband and her third kid joined them (after I was already in line), and the mother said, "Excuse me, we're a big family." I found it quite amusing that she would think that three kids is a big family. Where I grew up (Modern Orthodox middle class America), two kids is a small family, three or four kids is average, and five kids is beginning to be considered a "large family." I am aware that in other places, two kids is a large family (China) or five kids is a small family (hareidi anywhere). Anyway, they went on speaking about how they were a big family, and the advantages and disadvantages. The three girls all thought it was great and a lot of fun. They were extremely well-behaved. More well-behaved than I wanted to be while waiting in line for forty minutes between 5:40 and 6:20 am!

(In general, I find it interesting to observe the highly subjective nature of words such as "liberal," "conservative," "religious," "not religious," "rich," and "poor." I could be considered all of these things, depending on whom you ask, but people often use these words as if they are absolutes. I also think this realization underscores the importance of defining yourself on your own terms, because someone else is always going to define you the way they want to regardless of how you define yourself.)

I saw two little girls on my cross-continental journey who were wearing notable t-shirts--notable either for being offensive or for being unintentionally humorous. Both girls were young enough that someone else purchased these shirts for them. (Maybe they requested/begged for them, but someone else made the purchasing decision.) One said:
What's wrong with you? (By "you" I mean "you, the parent.") What is it with dressing little girls in inappropriate t-shirts? I wouldn't call this "Gossip" t-shirt inappropriate, really, as much as not (a) promoting stereotypes of girls that I would want to promote or celebrate, even if there is some truth in them (girls can be very, very mean and catty in middle school) and (b) not promoting values that I would want to promote in general.

The second t-shirt read:
I defy ordinary.
Girl, you are ordinary! You're wearing a t-shirt with a company name emblazoned on it! If it just said "Abercrombie," fine! We all wear t-shirts with corporate names on them once in awhile. It was the juxtaposition of the corporate advertising with a claim to be something other than ordinary that made the t-shirt seem humorous to me.

In general, flying on Christmas is a great time to people watch. Flying on Christmas and spending time in airports in New York, Dallas, and San Jose with many families that were flying on Christmas was even more interesting. All the family dynamics and all manner of parenting decisions came out. I mean all of them. Kids being obnoxious. Kids being cute and sweet. Parents snapping at kids. Adolescents ignoring their parents. Adolescents getting along with their parents. Babies cooing at strangers. Babies crying. Toddlers being run ragged at the airport so that they would be able to sit still for the flight. Toddlers consuming Pepsi at the airport (felt bad for the people sitting next to those toddlers on the next flight!). Families that seemed happy together. Families that wanted to be anywhere but in an airport on Christmas.

Warning: Rash generalizations to follow. People are friendlier in Dallas than they are in either New York or California. Overall, it always seems like people are heavier in the middle of the country (Omaha, Dallas, Chicago). I don't know if that's statistically true, or where most of the people in a given airport live in real life, but I always get that impression. (Could just be incorrect stereotyping.) The people in New York seemed somewhat more harried/stressed out than the people in California, but it could have been the 5-6 am hour vs. the noon hour that made the difference, rather than the coast. But I think it was the coast. People in California always seem more relaxed that people in New York. More relaxed and happier. Alas, also far, far more dependent on their cars. The people in California were definitely more wrinkled, on average, than the people in New York. They probably see more sun.

After sleeping for three or four hours combined on two flights, I wanted to jog when I arrived in California! I've written about running before (here), and when the urge hits me, it's best to seize the sneakers and go for it, since the urge doesn't hit often. Perhaps "running" is too strong a word to describe the somewhat geriatric pace at which I jog. I ran 3.2 miles according to Google maps. It took me 30 minutes. You do the math. (Huh...That's actually not so bad. I run at 5.0 mph on the treadmill at the gym when I go, and this is faster than that.) Then I walked .6 miles home. It felt great. This is one of those things, that if you told me at 12 I'd be doing at 27, I would never have believed. When I was 12 I was asthmatic, out of shape, and hated gym class to the high heavens.

On Monday night and almost every night I was there, I watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with my grandmother, something I've been doing for at least fifteen or twenty years. There aren't too many things that I can claim to have done for the past fifteen or twenty years--it was nice to do one of them.

I did nothing of consequence on Tuesday, except walk 1.9 miles to a salon and 1.9 miles back to get a haircut. (See: dependent on cars. It was fine. I like to walk. But I don't really drive and someone else had the car and I can walk 1.5 blocks to get my hair cut in NYC.) I love doing nothing on vacation! I got a fabulous (and inexpensive) haircut from a woman who didn't really look like she knew what she was doing, who told me that she would rather be doing fashion merchandising than cutting hair. It did not inspire confidence!

On Wednesday afternoon, I took the train to San Francisco to poke around Chinatown and a few bookstores. I love San Francisco, and it was a beautiful day to be there. I walked from the Caltrain Station to Chinatown (a bit over two miles, I think), where I happily picked up some cheap paper fans that will make my stiffling hot summer subway rides much nicer. I always see old ladies with fans, waiting in the station for the trains in the summer, and envy them. Now I can be one of them!

When I told my mother and my uncle that I'd walked that far, they were shocked. I think that's kind of funny. I walk two miles to work on many mornings. I walk a mile to the grocery store and back probably at least once a week.

After Chinatown, I went to the City Lights bookstore, where I bought A.B. Yehoshua's highly-recommended A Journey To the End of the Millenium. I never buy or read Israeli literature in English, because I always hope that one day I'll be motivated enough to read it in Hebrew. Of course, I never am, so I end up woefully under-exposed to Israeli literature. It's time to remedy the situation even if it means admitting to myself that I'll probably never get around to reading it in Hebrew, unless I fully immerse myself in Hebrew literature at some point and become much quicker at reading in Hebrew. (It's not so much the words I don't understand, although it is that, too. It's mostly the plodding pace of reading in Hebrew that dissuades me from even trying. And, yes, I know I would get faster if I just did it a bit.)

On Thursday, I spent the day with my mother. We went to Muir Woods, which was beautiful, and then to the Marin Headlands, which were less beautiful but we both wanted to see the ocean, so we were glad we went. I was horrified to see someone breaking off part of a tree branch at Muir Woods (in Muir Woods?), but then I went off the path a bit at the Marin Headlands, to get a better view (I wasn't walking on any plants, just on a dirty/sandy natural path, but still), so maybe I'm not much better than the woman who broke off a small branch. But, still! Who breaks off part of a tree in a National Park? I mean, isn't it entirely clear that that is a thoughtless, selfish thing to do? Why would anyone do that?

It's like when I see people throwing trash on the streets. I mean, who does that? I was once babysitting for my five-year-old cousin and we were at the playground. A classmate of her's showed up and was chewing some gum. She threw the wrapper on the ground and I asked her to pick it up and put it in the trash, which wasn't that far away. I always wonder about that. I know that some parents are touchy about other people correcting their children (I've gotten the "eye" from at least one mother when I asked her kid to stop physically pushing me in line). But I think it is reasonable, if you see a five-year-old throwing trash on the playground, to ask her to put it in the garbage. If she had said, "No," I would've picked it up and disposed of it myself. (She was there with her older brother and sister, not a parent.)

This past Friday, I was at Starbucks, and a 9 year old girl and 6 year old boy (possibly wildly incorrect estimated ages of a sibling pair) were sitting at a table while their mother was at the counter buying drinks. They each had a closed umbrella and they were fighting with the umbrellas, fencing-style. Or maybe sword-fight style. Could go either way. The motherly voice in me arose out of nowhere and I wanted to say, "Stop it! You'll put one of your eyes out!" or "This can only end one way--in tears." They were both to blame, but, of course, I blamed the older girl more than the younger boy. She probably could have ignored and he would've stopped. Of course, they were also both clearly having fun. I didn't say anything. Then, of course, the girl hit the boy in the eye with her umbrella and he started wailing. Wailing! He was probably okay, but it also could have hurt him. (Reflexes are pretty quick and he probably closed his eye before the umbrella touched it.) The mother, embarrassed, came back to the table and separated the kids, bringing her son to the front of the store. Then she hussled both of them out of there as quickly as possible. Should I have said anything? I think it was okay not to say anything, but if one of them had actually gotten hurt, I might have felt bad. On the other hand, I was fairly sure that one of them would end up crying but that neither one would end up seriously hurt, and kids will be kids, and they're going to fight with umbrellas at one time or another, and who am I to interfere? The older girl clearly felt both shame and embarrassment over having hit her brother in the eye, and maybe she won't engage in such games in the future. Unlikely, but possible.

Thursday night, December 28-Monday, January 1 is all a pleasant blur of shopping (new soft sheets from Macy's!), packing, unpacking, sleeping, eating, and going to shul. A highlight was the wine, cheese, and board game party I hosted on New Year's Eve. Plus, I'm boring even myself by now. So, to wrap up, during the rest of my vacation, I:
  • Watched a football game that I didn't really understand with my grandmother and uncle. Cal won. That was the important thing. Go, Bears!
  • Watched a lot of TV.
  • Ate a lot of good, home-cooked food.
  • Finished reading two books.
  • Read a magazine.
  • Read a few more chapters of another book.
  • I made a big pot of mushroom barley soup. Yum!
  • I made a big stir fry with fake meat and a pot of brown rice to go with it. Yum!
  • I ate a lot of ice cream. Yum!
And now, alas, I am no longer on vacation.

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I noticed the not-walking thing elsewhere as well - I don't know anyone else in my family who regularly walks more than a mile per day. For me, it's the combo of city living and dog ownership...
I have actually discovered that if I don't walk between two and three miles a day, I don't feel too good. At minimum, I need to walk one mile a day not to feel vaguely "yucky." I sometimes don't manage to do that on Fridays, but I'd guess that it averages out to 14-17 miles a week anyway.
San Francisco is a great walking city. When I lived there I would walk all over. Jerusalem is another good walking city - you can get from anywhere to anywhere by walking.

Boston - not so much.

I agree about San Francisco and Jerusalem, but what makes you think Boston is not a good walking city? Newton isn't, but that's because it's a typical suburb. Boston itself is quite compact and walkable, as are Brookline and Cambridge.
Not driving is so liberating.

It's okay to say something to the kids who are fencing with umbrellas. They are a danger to everyone around them.
You wrote: "Overall, it always seems like people are heavier in the middle of the country (Omaha, Dallas, Chicago)." A study I saw years ago (decades ago, probably) found that is also true of sparrows. They are smaller on the coasts, and in the south, and larger inland, and further north. The explanation was that the bigger they are, the better they can survive cold winters. If they don't have to survive cold winters, then they are better off being small, because they can grow up and breed more quickly. Some explanation like that could apply to people as well. Maybe not survival of the fittest, but perhaps heavier people don't mind the cold winters as much, so they are more willing to live in the Midwest. That wouldn't apply to Dallas, though.
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