Tag: road tripping

Postmodernists, postpositivists, and truth vs Truth

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Found this on a Galveston beach. Is it an alien lifeform? Inflated plastic? Postmodernist storyteller me says both are plausible!

I’m on a quest to take as many research methodology classes as I can while getting my PhD, and this semester one that I’m taking is qualitative. I’m a quantitative person, so this is a major thinking shift.

Qualitative is case studies and interviews and ethnographies and telling the story one person or group at a time, while quantitative is surveys and statistics and applying your findings to larger groups.

One of our first assignments is a position paper, in which we explain which paradigm we follow, relate our history that brought us to that paradigm, and then explore our biases that will affect our qualitative research. I’m stuck between two: postpositivism and postmodernism.

Postpositivists think that the objective Truth is out there, but our methods of seeking it are flawed by our biases.

Postmodernists think everyone has a truth, and your truth isn’t any more valid than mine because it’s all relative.

Basically, the two are on opposite ends of a spectrum (well, positivism and postmodernism are).

(Fun story: I went to a Catholic high school, and my junior year we had to take Apologetics, which we defined as apologizing for your faith but is actually defending it. I routinely argued with our teacher, a poor priest right out of the seminary, that all religions were seeking the same end goal – peace and love and happiness in whatever comes next – but just had different ways of reaching that goal. Kinda like a bunch of people climbing a mountain, but from different sides – they all want to get to the top but are each taking a different route. The teacher strongly encouraged me to sleep or read in class so that I wouldn’t constantly pull apart the course material.)

As a researcher, I want to find Answers. As a social worker and social justice warrior, I want underrepresented voices to be heard so that we can bring about change to unequal systems. As an author, I want to tell my character’s story and make it just as valid as anyone else’s.

My question tonight: If I have my perception of the truth, and you have your perception of the truth, and everyone reading this and in the world has their perceptions of the truth, how do we as researchers decide whose truth is most valid? Applying a postmodern perspective, can we even decide that someone’s truth is invalid, and how does this fit into our role in “mitigating against epistemic injustice in educational research?” When is it okay to judge a culture or individual as “wrong” or “bad” when its members are doing their best according to their beliefs?

Weekend Writing Warrior 9/11/16 #8Sunday

clown-motelFor September I’ll be pulling from several related short stories I wrote this summer, all dealing with the apocalypse.

Today’s story, tentatively called “The Graveyard,” was inspired by a town I passed through while wandering the country this summer: Tonopah, Nevada, home to the “haunted” Clown Motel located right next to an old graveyard filled with plague victims. Fun. :)

* * * * * * *

The plague hit quickly and deadly. In the course of just a couple weeks nearly half the town was dead, with those left alive torn between caring for the sick, burying the dead, or fleeing the county before they were struck down too.

With Pa taking the easy route and hightailing it out, and Ma dying right off, that left me the task of looking after the young’uns, and my older brother to bury the dead. Then the plague took him too, and most of the little’uns, until it was just me and baby Nylen after the plague was gone.

Pa had wanted a right proper homestead but there ain’t really any call for farming in the Nevada desert. He’d always talked about moving – west to California or north to Dakota Territory – but Ma’s people were here in Nye County and so she put her foot down. I thought about moving me and Nylen somewhere too, but where does a sixteen-year-old girl even go? So we stuck around, nearly the only folks still in town, determined to make the best of a bad situation.

* * * * * * *

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Roadtripping 2016 trip #2: culinary excursion

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Gunflint Lake, on the MN/ON border, full of yummy fish

Last year I made a roadtrip wishlist. I only made it to one place – the Southeast (although we went to Mackinaw, Michigan, instead of Duluth or Door County – similar latitude). Fortunately, I’ve been able to hit a couple more places so far this year: we went to Tulsa and then on to San Antonio and Galveston, Texas, over spring break, and this weekend I returned from a weeklong trip that included Thunder Bay. My son and I are headed west along Route 6 to California in July, and then we’re taking it east to Nova Scotia in August. Not bad, as far as trips go.

About this last trip, though. I found a great deal for a little lodge in the woods of northern Minnesota, the perfect reward for graduating with my master’s in May. I’m not working this summer – just a few projects, most of which can be done from home – so I decided to take advantage of my free time by heading to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and then over to Winnipeg before coming back.

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Kakabeka Falls, Thunder Bay – also full of yummy fish

One of my favorite reasons to head north (other than the cooler temps, especially in summer, and the beautiful scenery) is the food. Specifically along the Great Lakes, just about every local place specializes in fresh whitefish, like perch or walleye. I don’t scrimp when it comes to restaurants on vacation – I head to the cheapest 5-star places I can find.

This trip, we ate delicious walleye sandwiches from the Border Waters, the countless lakes that dot the border between Minnesota and Ontario. We changed it up in Thunder Bay at a Canajun (Cajun done Canadian style) restaurant, that offered yummy walleye po’ boys.

We changed it up, however, when we headed inland to Winnipeg. I love eating ethnic foods, especially ones I can’t get back home, and Winnipeg had plenty to offer. We settled on Ethiopian; we’d eaten it in San Antonio and it wasn’t something we could find locally.

Ethiopian food

Homemade misr wat (red lentils), atakilt wat (potatoes, cabbage, and carrots), and goman wat (collards) on injera (bread)

Hot damn, that was good. We split a veggie combo and a meat combo, and the woman who runs the place gave us lots of extra injera, the traditional flat bread. She also sold me a huge bag of the berbere spice mix so I could make my own stuff at home. Which I did, for dinner tonight, and it was wonderful.

We also hit up the Forks Market, where we ate awesome Indian and Greek and pastries. Lots of pastries. It’s probably best I don’t live in a place like Winnipeg, because I’d have a hard time not eating constantly.

Where’s your favorite foodie destination?

5 lessons learned from a summer of traveling

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Kayaking Lake Huron

A cousin recently told me, “Dang, girl, it’s like you’re always on road trips or vacation.” And it’s true; if I don’t go somewhere at least every month or two I get very cranky. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to get out of town a lot this spring and summer: Omaha for Easter; Door County, Wisconsin, in mid-May; camping in Wisconsin Memorial Day weekend, followed by a long weekend in Montreal; 4th of July in Saginaw, Michigan; and finally a week wandering around the Southeast.

There are several things I’ve learned while traveling, that apply to just about every trip I’ve taken.

  1. Take that picture now. You might tell yourself you’ll come back later and get that shot, but let’s be honest: it’s not going to happen. If you want to get a picture, or eat that street food, or buy yourself 4 new gnomes at that souvenir store, do it now because something will come up that keeps you from doing it later.
  2. Take the road less traveled.
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    Early morning fog on the Ohio River

    If life is a journey, not a destination, why not apply this to trips as well? There’s a spot in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair that explains this: “Secondary roads are preferred. Paved country roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on ‘good’ rather than ‘time’ and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes.”I don’t like interstates because the scenery is the same: Applebee’s and Walmart in a strip mall, distant fields, everything the same. Sure, it gets you there more quickly, but you’re not actually seeing anything. I tried to take pictures as we drove through the Appalachians, but you can’t get anything from an interstate. On a highway, however, you can stop and savor the details. You can find random stores and people and a deeper understanding of what shapes people’s lives, from empty storefronts to neighboring farms to dozens of Baptist churches near a community.

    Same goes with tourist attractions. My son and I joke that we’ve gone to an overrated water attraction ever year: Niagara Falls in 2013, Old Faithful last year, and Chattanooga’s Ruby Falls this year. Ruby Falls was nice, but the next day we hit up Raccoon Mountain Caverns and they turned out to be the best cave system we’ve been to – plus there were a ton less people AND it was cheaper.

  3. Take more time.
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    NC’s Outer Banks – beautiful AND no one’s there!

    When I travel, I have goals for the day: on the road by 8. Destination by midmorning, lunch at a particular restaurant, at the campsite by 5. I don’t think we met my timeframes a single day on our last trip. And that was okay. We left late because we were chatting with neighbors. We arrived late because we stopped along the road to take pictures. We spent more time at the destination than we anticipated. Maybe we didn’t do everything I’d wanted, but we still had a great time.

  4. Don’t take
    surfing

    My son “surfing” at Virginia Beach this summer

    control. Midsummer, my son asked why we always had to do what I wanted on trips, so I let him plan our big end-of-summer trip. We ended up at some places and restaurants I wouldn’t necessarily have picked, but all ended up having fun.

  5. Take chances. Is there somewhere you want to go, or something you want to do, but you’ve never gone or never done it? Do it. Maybe it’ll turn out sucky, but at least you’ll get some good road warrior stories to share. Like #1 above, don’t go through life forever regretting not taking that trip or doing that activity while there.

If you’re a traveler, what do you think of this list? Anything you would add or change? And if you’re not a traveler – what are you waiting for??

Steampunk lighthouses and roadtripping for research

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Stavkirke on Washington Island

To celebrate making it through another semester of grad school (and especially for passing Intermediate Statistics), I rewarded myself with a roadtrip to one of my favorite spots, Washington Island, Wisconsin. It’s part of Door County and therefore gets hit pretty hard during tourism season, so it was nice to make it there a week before the craziness hit.

The island is accessible only by ferry. It’s small – 35 square miles – but wonderful for hiking or just watching the waves on the beaches. And eating, especially if you like fish, which is caught in the morning and served fresh for dinner.

Driving back, I decided to detour along Lake Michigan. It was out of the way, but I needed to head along the shoreline to find the lighthouse that’ll feature prominently in an upcoming novel, On the Other Side (working title). Unfortunately it was solid fog and I was unable to see any of the five lighthouses on my list. But the trip wasn’t entirely wasted – I was able to stop by Popeye’s in Milwaukee for dinner (the nearest Popeye’s to where I live is about 2 1/2 hours away).

On the Other Side will be a bit of a change from my other stuff. It’s a political thriller featuring a Victorian steampunk heroine, a modern-day Chicago architect, and an inventor in the vein of Nikola Tesla.

And a lighthouse, if I can ever find the right one.

Roadtripping 2015

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Lake Superior near Split Rock Lighthouse, Minnesota

The weather is warm-ish. The semester is almost over. I’m itching to travel.

I love to travel. I especially love road trips along two-lane highways (I dislike interstates).

Coming up in the next month, I have a camping trip in Wisconsin and a long weekend in Montreal (flying, not road tripping). And on the wishlist for the summer/fall:

  • Thunder Bay, Ontario, and this time I will find a kayak rental place
  • My annual trip to Washington Island, Wisconsin, or maybe Duluth, Minnesota, or Copper Harbor, Michigan
  • Channahon, Illinois (because Staples’ website thinks I live there) for a weekend of camping
  • The Southeast: the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Atlanta, Charleston, a North Carolina beach or two, and my old haunts in Durham
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma (although that might wait until spring break next year when I can turn it into a stop on my way to South Padre Island, Texas, and New Orleans)
  • The entire length of US Rte 6 because Route 6 runs uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other, except by some devoted eccentric,” and I am that devoted eccentric
  • Back to Pondicherry, India, for winter break

My son and I have decided we’re going to visit every US state and Canadian province and territory by the time he graduates high school in ten years: 27 states left for him, 15 for me, and 11 provinces/territories.

Are you a traveler? What’s on your list of places to visit this summer?

Summer roadtrip #1

It’s not technically summer, but I am halfway through one of two weeks I get off from classes this summer, so yes, it is summer for me. I start an internship and a couple classes next week, so I thought I’d unwind this past weekend while I had a little bit of free time by heading to a remote, relaxing location: Washington Island, Wisconsin.

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Weekend Writing Warriors 1/19/14 #WeWriWa

100_2738I just got back from India! Between a long last day, spending the night in an airport (and not sleeping for most of it), and then another 26 hours flying halfway around the world, my body’s not really sure what day or time it is.  Fortunately I wrote a lot while over there and have something to share today.

Today’s excerpt is from an experience I had visiting a Dalit village. Dalits are gypsies, one of the lowest castes, but you wouldn’t know it by talking to them because they were so happy, so glad to interact with us.

Intricately beaded necklaces cover half a blanket on the ground, and rubber stamps are displayed on the other side. Rajeesh turns her hand over, then studies the stamps before selecting a large rose which he dips in the ink, then presses onto her palm. Tenderly he inks each finger with a dotted leaf pattern. Again he studies the stamps, finally selecting one. “Fishies.”
“Fish,” she corrects.
“Fish,” he says as he grins at her and she grins back. He quickly presses the stamp against her skin, six fish swimming to Chennai, to Paris, to wherever they want, while he stays here in his village.

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Looks can be deceiving

Most people hate icebreakers. That said, they’re often a necessary inconvenience, so you may as well sweeten the deal with food. My favorite/least hated one for the classroom involves giving everyone a handful of Starbursts, then requiring them tell something about themselves based on the color. Red is a hobby, yellow is a random fact, orange is a goal for the class, orange is your bucket list. Or something like that.

I always include the bucket list category because it’s so telling about my students, to find out what they want to do in life. And they love learning about me.

Last time I did it, I used my orange Starburst to tell them I want to both pick up a hitchhiker and be a hitchhiker. And when I say this, the kids universally freak out. “You can’t do that! That’s not safe! That’s really f’ing stupid!” Yeah, whatever.

A year-and-a-half ago, I found myself wandering around Door County, Wisconsin. I took the ferry as a passenger, no car, to Washington Island, which really confused the ticket lady. “You realize it’s a three-mile walk to town, right?” Yeah. No problem. I didn’t tell her this, but I figured if I got tired of walking, maybe someone would give me a ride back to the docks.

Washington Island stavekirke

Sure enough, after I’d checked out an awesome little church in the woods and was heading back, an old guy in a pickup stopped and offered me a ride. It’s not quite what I had in mind when telling my kids I wanted to hitchhike, but concerned friends assure me that yes, it was hitchhiking. One thing down.

Since then, I’ve been trying to find someone to pick up, but it never works out: either my kid is with me, or they have too much stuff/dog for me car, or I’m going the wrong direction.

Last week, I was at the gas station airing up my bike tires when I noticed a scruffy kid and dog, surrounded by scruffy gear, sitting in the shade. I asked him if he needed a ride, and where he was headed.

“South.”

“How far south?”

“As far as you can take me.”

“I can take you to the next town. Let me ride home and get my car. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”

I was absolutely thrilled by this. I wrote a story about an inexperienced hobo, “Riding the Rails,” which was published by Hobo Camp Review in 2012, but I’d never really had a chance to talk to anyone about their experiences. This would be my chance for some great research.

“Cricket,” as he preferred to be called, was very quiet at first, barely answering my questions. He’d been traveling for about nine years (I’m guessing he was about twenty-five), had been to forty-eight states, and was making his way south to train to become a truck driver.

As the miles passed, he opened up more. He explained how to hop a train, why people in Massachusetts are crazy and Indianapolis is not a nice place, and the best ways to deal with asshole police officers on power trips. He didn’t finish high school, he said, and had been traveling since, staying with friends and working odd jobs, but he was getting tired of it and wanted something more permanent. I told him a little about the students I worked with, the at-risk kids everyone gave up on, and how sometimes they just needed someone to put things in a perspective they could understand. Sometimes, they just needed someone willing to give them a chance.

And then I got to see his sense of humor.

I asked him who gave him more rides, men or women. He told me I was the first women to give him a ride in nearly two years, and I mentioned people thought it was a bad idea because he might be a serial killer.

“If I was a serial killer,” he responded, “don’t you think I’d have my own car? Or five or six of them?”

As we neared our destination, nearly seventy-five miles from where I’d picked him up, we discussed the best place to drop him off. Downtown was out, because it was mostly just college kids walking or biking.

I asked him if he’d considered getting a bike.

“Well, actually,” he said, “I’m gonna get five more dogs and hitch them to a sled, to pull me around. I do too much walking.”

I was really kind of disappointed to drop him off. I’d had a great conversation with him and learned a lot. For his part, he told me it was the best ride he’d had “in a long minute” (he told me that most rides he got were about two-five miles, just from one tiny town to the next, usually in the back of a pickup with no one talking to him). If it hadn’t been for his dog frequently licking my face, and me needing to pick my kid up, I would’ve kept driving him.

I make a point of talking to people who are different from me. Everyone has a story, everyone can teach you something, if you’re just willing to give them a chance.

I know I am; are you?

13 tips for a cheap, awesome road trip

I know I say it a lot, but I love road trips. Not only do I get to see beautiful/weird new stuff and eat great food, but the trips are a great way for me to recharge, think my way through stories I’m working on, and gather ideas for new stories.

Niagara Falls’ rapids

But I’m currently a bit on the broke side, so I have to find ways to get my fix as cheaply as possible. I’ve taken two big trips this summer – camping in Minnesota and Thunder Bay, and a recent sightseeing trip to Detroit and Toronto – as well as multiple trips the summer before – New Orleans and Pensacola, FL; Door County, WI; and Duluth, MN – and have come up with some useful tips I thought I’d share.

First, all road trip expenses can be broken into four basic categories: transportation, lodging, food, and activities (I guess you can make the case that souvenirs is a fifth category, but I don’t tend to buy any). No matter where you go, if you’re staying overnight you’re going to have costs from each category.

Transportation

abandoned pirate ship outside Hamilton, ON
  1. Take a fuel-efficient car. Mine, for example, gets about 30-35 mpg on the highway. Especially for long distances, you’ll really notice fuel savings. What if you drive one of those big manly 10 mpg trucks? Consider renting a sedan. Even with the price of the rental, you’ll still save money.
  2. Take highways instead of interstates. You get the best mileage the closer you are to 55 mph, which is the speed limit on most highways, compared to 65-70 on interstates. Plus you get to see more local flavor on highways than you do on the interstate, which is mostly stripmalls, chain restaurants, and hotels clustered around exits, and farmland.
  3. If you’re in a big city, look into a day pass for public transportation. It’ll cost less, plus you’ll be glad to not have the stress of driving in big-city traffic (Minneapolis, for example, is hell, no matter when you’re there).

Lodging

  1. Obviously free is best, so if you’re going somewhere where you know someone, see if you can stay with them.
  2. Don’t know anyone? How about camping? (By which I mean sleeping in a tent; staying in a 40-ft RV complete with cable TV, two bathrooms, and air conditioning is NOT camping. Plus it goes against tip #1 above.) Campgrounds are way cheaper than hotels, and many state and local parks are free; check websites for nearby parks before you go, as many require advance reservations.
  3. If you want to sleep inside (it’s winter or stormy, maybe), stay at a cheap hotel. I’m not talking bed bugs, chalk outlines, and long-term residents with no teeth – put your health and safety first, of course – but do you really need to stay somewhere with hardwood floors and seven pillows on each bed if you’re just using the room to sleep in? In addition to checking travel sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, look at the town’s website; it often has a section with quirky local low-priced hotels not found through the big travel sites.

Food

Our Toronto hotel came with free snacks!
  1. The problems with roadside fast food meals are that they get expensive, they’re unhealthy, and you soon get sick of the same thing over and over. (“Hmm, what’s for lunch? Burger from McDonald’s? Burger from Wendy’s? How about a burger from Hardee’s? No, I think I’ll go for a burger from Sonic.”) Avoid all this by bringing a cooler of food with you. Sandwiches are super easy on the go; either make them in advance or stop at a park and assemble them there.
  2. Same thing with snacks and drinks: buy them in bulk at the grocery store rather than at gas stations and rest stops. Chips, fruit, and sodas are all cheaper this way, plus you get more variety. I bring gallon jugs of water with me ($.39 refills at the local grocery store) and refill my water bottle rather than buying bottled water. There’s less garbage this way too.
  3. Stay at a hotel with a refrigerator and microwave in the room. Some places even have kitchenettes included in the rooms, stocked with basic dishes and pans; hit a local grocery store and cook your own meals. I keep a small tub of kitchen stuff in my car, just in case: a couple each of plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware.
  4. Free continental breakfast! Another advantage to staying at low- and mid-priced hotels is that they offer free breakfast; pricier hotels often have an attached restaurant and expensive room service.

Activities

Sometimes I have to physically restrain
the kid in order to get a picture
  1. Especially when I’m on a trip by myself, I love hiking around – for free. I’ve taken some awesome pictures at free places, like parks and lakeshores.
  2. Do you really need to go in? My kid is six and has a super short attention span; we get inside somewhere (St. Louis Arch, Ford Rouge Factory in Detroit, CN Tower and Casa Loma and zoo in Toronto, Niagara Falls…), he looks around for all of three minutes, and then he starts bugging me to leave. The pricier the admission, the longer I make him stay – but some of these places really aren’t worth the price, and I’d be just as happy snapping a picture outside for free.
  3. Sometimes it’s worth it to bundle. In Toronto, for example, we bought City Passes – admission to five places, four of which I wanted to go to, for way less than buying them individually. Make sure you do the math though, to guarantee individual prices of what you plan to do aren’t less than the pass itself.

What are some travel tips that work for you?

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