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December 28, 2007

Currently Reading

This is not a post about travel, but I wanted to mention some good books I am reading or have just read. This fall, I spent a lot of time reading about Africa, a continent I felt I knew way too little about. I am very interested in Zimbabwe, so many of the books were about that country, but I also enjoyed books about all of Africa. (Actually, I guess the post is somewhat travel related, after all!)

The best book about Africa I have read so far is The State of Africa by Martin Meredith. (I think it was published as "The Fate of Africa" in the US.) It is a history of Africa since independence and it is amazing in the level of depth that he is able to get into in 700 pages. Very well written and extremely engaging! The book really made me understand a lot about post-independence Africa. Highly recommended!

Books about Zimbabwe:

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Fuller grew up in Zimbabwe and tells the story of her childhood and her family. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin. Just started! Written by a journalist who grew up in Zimbabwe.

Where We Have Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe by Andrew Meldrum. Meldrum moved to Zimbabwe in the early 1980s and became The Guardian's correspondent there. Personal, interesting, well written, great!

Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe by Martin Meredith. Fascinating account of the life of Robert Mugabe. I read the earlier version (published in 2003 I think) and it gives a very complete picture of the president of Zimbabwe and his violent grip on the country.

African Tears: The Zimbabwe Land Invasions by Catherine Buckle. Buckle tells her own story, the story of her farm being taken over by Mugabe's so-called war veterans.

Other books I am currently reading:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Boy, what in the world are we putting in our bodies??

Moon Handbook to Guatemala. I love the Nicaragua one so I decided to get the Guatemala one and hopefully I will put it to use soon!

February 8, 2008

Financial Books

Lately I have taken an interest in finances and I have started to read some financial books. Now that I have turned 30 it is time to start thinking about retirement! :) I bought a couple of books used off of Amazon - I thought it would be a good start to buy the books for less than a dollar each (plus shipping of course.)

So far, I have learned two main things: My finances are a lot better than some people's! I really didn't know how many people are in debt and live way beyond their means. I mean, I know that people have loans for cars and houses and big stuff like that, but I didn't know that "The average American household with at least one credit card has nearly $9,200 in credit card debt." (This is according to CardWeb.com.) Half of all Americans have credit card debt. That is a lot! So that made me feel better.

The second thing I have learned is that I have a lot to learn... I do want my money to grow, but there are so many options out there. But reading the books is a start, at least. I have to say that I prefer the books with a more practical approach as opposed to the ones who talk a lot about the emotional reasons for spending and poor financial habits (for instance, someone might be a big spender because of their family's spending habits.) I think these things are important, don't get me wrong, it is just that while I have lots of issues :) I don't think I have any major financial issues. So I am really enjoying reading the books that tell me what to do: Open a money market account. Get your credit score.

Because it is still somewhat expensive, I haven't bought Suze Orman's Women and Money, but I think I will. I read a little bit of it in the bookstore and I like her month-by-month approach. I have also found The Millionaire Next Door interesting. The authors do a good job of showing the difference between income and net worth. Some people we think of as very rich, may just have a very expensive life style, because they don't save much of their money. It is encouraging to read that being thrifty and establishing good habits make a good foundation. (It is less encouraging, however, to read that the typical millionaire is a 57-year old man, married to a very thrifty wife, working either as a self-employed entrepreneur or in a profession such as doctor, lawyer, or accountant. I don't really fit any of those!)

As far as my spending habits go, I am not too bad, but I could definitely stand to cut back on lunch spending. I am pretty good but I still like to eat lunch out once or twice a week. I have also been known to spend a bit every time I go to Target - so I will try not to go very often, and go on a mission when I do go. (For instance, I think they have good and cheap work out wear, so I will keep buying that there.) And then there is travel... I love traveling and I don't think I will cut back too much there. But the good thing is that I love to travel to Central America, which is a lot cheaper than for instance Europe.

(Speaking of lunch spending, last Friday some co-workers introduced me to "Credit Card Roulette." This basically means that everybody puts their credit card on the table and the waitress picks one... I was lucky as my card was not picked, but I am a little worried about today's lunch!)

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February 14, 2008

Pay a Compliment

Leslie, one of the Slow Travelers who is blogging for a month, a little while ago suggested a topic on her blog Kaleidoscope:

Blog Prompt: Today is Pay a Compliment Day. Who would you compliment today and why?

I know today is Valentine's Day, but as a European who has not grown up with the tradition, I am not a huge fan of a "holiday" that is mainly about getting us to buy cards. (Norwegian online newspapers are full of the "send your sweetheart a Valentine" - as if it wasn't enough that they have picked up Halloween already.) So I decided to Pay a Compliment instead. I will pay a compliment to the working man and the working woman (I know we are far away from May 1st, but whatever.) To the people who make the wheels turn and who don't get a huge paycheck or a "thank you" for what they do. To those who work at McDonald's, or drive the garbage truck, or do landscaping, or are nurse's aides, or clean dishes in the back of the restaurant.

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Sometimes I wonder if we have lost a lot of the respect that society had for doing a good job - whatever that job was. (Since I just turned 30 I have all this wisdom I just need to get out!) I think it is really sad that in many parts of my own country (Norway) and my current home country (the US) certain jobs are looked down upon and if we see, for instance, a middle-aged woman or man working at the food court of a mall, we often think that the person is not successful or fulfilled. Then again, with the wages that such a job pays, it migth be hard to feel successful. I know the world is changing and all that, but I do think it is sad that there are fewer and fewer decent paying jobs for people without a college degree. Working at the port has taught me a lot about pride in one's work and the that there are A LOT of things that college doesn't teach you. While the unions can certainly be too rigid in their rules, I really do respect the cameraderie and the loyalty among the longshoremen and the quality of the work. Without getting too political - you will actually get better quality work if you have decently payed employees who don't view their work as just a place to make a few bucks before swtiching to another job. For another example: how nice is it to buy meat from a butcher who knows his craft, instead of some unmotivated teenager at the supermarket?

Baltimore is definitely the most thoroughly blue collar place I have lived, and I really like it. Many people have lived in Locust Point or Federal Hill for generations, and their families still live close by. A lot of them have ties to the port that goes back years and years. It really provides a sense of community and belonging that many places lack.

So my Valentine's Day Compliment goes to you, working men and women. (And to my boyfriend!)

February 18, 2008

If I Won the Lottery

Another February blogger, Kim of What I Really Think, had a great post this morning: If I Had a Million Dollars. I particularly enjoyed the fact that she had so carefully thought out what to do with the money and listed the items in nice bullets. So I got inspired to give this some thought myself - because who knows when I might get lots and lots of money! And I am going to assume, like Kim did, that the amount is over USD 200 million, to make sure that I can live off of it for the rest of my life if I want to, even if I spent a lot right away.

First I would call all my friends (I mean real friends, not the ones who would hit me up for money later!) and go to some really nice restaurant (Citronelle anyone?) to celebrate. Champagne all the way! (Although it doesn't have to be the really expensive stuff.)

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Continue reading "If I Won the Lottery" »

February 20, 2008

Princeton Wants to Send Students Abroad - Even Before College

Warning: Long, boring, intolerant, opinionated, and incoherent!

Yesterday, the New York Times posted an article about Princeton: Princeton Plans for an Early Year Abroad. In short, Princeton wants to send about ten percent of its students abroad for a year of social service - before they even start college. According to the university's president, the program "would give students a more international perspective, add to their maturity and give them a break from academic pressures."

In theory, this sounds good, and many of the commenters praise the idea. Many students, especially in Europe, already take a "gap year" between finishing secondary school and starting university, and some feel that more Americans should do this. In general, American parents have been less likely to encourage this as they tend to pay big money for their children's education, and they want to make sure that the students finish college before taking off on adventures. However, many American students do study abroad for shorter amounts of time, often a summer or one semester. (Raise your hand if you have met drunk students in Florence! And of all nationalities, I might add.)

Continue reading "Princeton Wants to Send Students Abroad - Even Before College" »

February 29, 2008

Our month of blogging is over!

It is February 29th and the end of our month of blogging! I am too tired to write anything today so I will just list the bloggers one more time. It was a lot of fun blogging with you all! Today I have moved, had my last day at my job, gone to a job interview, and driven three times between Baltmore and DC. With the flu. Time for bed!!

The idea came from Vagabond Artist, and here is a list of the participating blogs:

Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!
There and Back Again...
Shave Ice & Gelato
Postcards from the Trail
Churches in Venice
Palmabella's Passions
Old Shoes - New Trip
Blond Momentos
Kaleidoscope
What I really think - Kim's blog
A journey of a thousand miles begins with... too much luggage!

March 18, 2008

March Madness Slow Travel Blogging

Many of my fellow Slow Travel bloggers decided to continue (or start) blogging daily, like we did in the month of February. As you can see, I did not join, but I am looking forward to start reading what everyone else is writing!

Here is a list of the March Madness:

A journey of a thousand miles begins with... too much luggage!
Beyond the lunatic fringe - Travels with Robert
Blond Momentos
Destination anywhere
Eden's wanderings and wonderings
In and out of the garden
Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!
Old Shoes - New Trip
Palmabella's Passions
Postcards from the Trail
Shave Ice & Gelato
That's my story...and i'm stickin' to it! The best trip ever
Vagabond Artist
What I really think - Kim's blog
Whistlestop cafe cooking

March 27, 2008

Elections in Zimbabwe - Time for a change

On Saturday, March 29, the people of Zimbabwe will head to their polling stations for the presidential election. An inflation of over 100,000% (although the government has stopped counting) is but one sign that it is time for Robert Mugabe's oppressive government to step down. (Another one: That life expectancy has dropped from more than 60 years to just over 30 years in only 15 years.) Unfortunately, nobody is predicting a fair and free election; instead the discussion centers on exactly what kind of fraud Mugabe will undertake. It has already been discovered that a few million extra ballots have been printed, ready to be stuffed. Also, no election observers are allowed into the country, and the opposition is already bracing itself for the violence they fear will come.

The New York Times has an editorial today where they hope that the elections can bring about change. The Economist also has good Zimbabwe coverage for those who are interested. There are many Zimbabwe blogs, here is one that I read regularly: Zokwanele. If I could vote, I would cast my vote for Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition who was brutally attacked and abused by the police a year ago:
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To my friends in Zimbabwe: You are in my thoughts. Here's to a better future! (I have never been to Zimbabwe but I hope to go visit my friends one day, hopefully when partaking in tourism doesn't mean supporting the regime - i.e. after Mugabe is gone.)

May 19, 2008

Finally someone gets it

It has been driving me crazy that in all the talk of high oil prices and the added burden on consumers, the talk has mainly been about how to either get oil from other sources, use alternative fuels, or drive more fuel efficient cars. My point has always been that there is a lifestyle change that is necessary for the US to be less dependent on oil - people need to drive less, and for that to happen, many things have to change. Alternative modes of transportation have to be available and desirable, and we have to find a way to curb suburban sprawl: higher density housing is crucial!

Paul Krugman explains this in a simple way in this great article from the New York Times: Stranded in Suburbia.

September 5, 2008

It is ok if you are a...

This post is so good, I just had to put it here. BUT it is about politics so don't read it if you want to stay away from politics!! (Hint: it is from DailyKos.)

September 13, 2008

Saying it well

Among the many things that baffle me about the Republicans, are their anti-intellectualism and blatant disregard for the value of experience. Today, The New York Times said it well in this editorial:

"What made it so much worse is the strategy for which the Republicans have made Ms. Palin the frontwoman: win the White House not on ideas, but by denigrating experience, judgment and qualifications.

The idea that Americans want leaders who have none of those things — who are so blindly certain of what Ms. Palin calls “the mission” that they won’t even pause for reflection — shows a contempt for voters and raises frightening questions about how Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin plan to run this country."

"One of the many bizarre moments in the questioning by ABC News’s Charles Gibson was when Ms. Palin, the governor of Alaska, excused her lack of international experience by sneering that Americans don’t want “somebody’s big fat résumé maybe that shows decades and decades in that Washington establishment where, yes, they’ve had opportunities to meet heads of state.” (Hey, Gov. Palin, wouldn't that be John McCain????)

"But that is not what troubled us most about her remarks — and, remember, if they were scripted, that just means that they reflect Mr. McCain’s views all the more closely. Rather, it was the sense that thoughtfulness, knowledge and experience are handicaps for a president in a world populated by Al Qaeda terrorists, a rising China, epidemics of AIDS, poverty and fratricidal war in the developing world and deep economic distress at home."

If I were an American, I would want my leaders to be intelligent and reflected and educated! Where I come from, people shift party allegiances quite often, depending on how well a party is doing. Here, it seems that too many people turn a blind eye to the horrible presidency of GWB, and blindly believe the GOP propaganda. Sad. Sad. Sad.

September 24, 2008

A Really Funny Campaign Video

Once in a while you come across a really good campaign ad - and this is one. It is made by Joe Garcia, who is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Florida's 25th congressional district, running against incumbent Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.


Continue reading "A Really Funny Campaign Video" »

September 26, 2008

Cafferty Telling Us What He Really Feels (and I agree!)

October 22, 2008

Cool as a Cucumber

I have been a bad blogger lately... I want to pick it back up but probably not until after the elections! Just wanted to share this great shot of Barack Obama brushing something off his shoulder. Just the way he brushed off all of McCain's stupidities in the last debate!

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My blog friends Annie and Girasoli have already voted - check out their reports on early voting!

October 31, 2008

Go Vote!

November 4, 2008

Today is the Day: Vote!!

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November 5, 2008

President Elect Barack Obama

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January 8, 2009

I am a Uber Cool Non-Nerd!

I took a test to see how nerdy I am - and I wasn't that nerdy! I did, however, do well in history and literature.


NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool Non-Nerd.  Click here to take the Nerd Test, get nerdy images and jokes, and write on the nerd forum!

January 25, 2009

February Bloggers

Last year, Tuscan Artist challenged the Slow Travel bloggers to blog every day for the month of February, inspired by National Blog Posting Month, or NaBloPoMo. This year, my good friend Annie challenged us again! I'll try to do it this year, but last year it was easier: I had a less demanding job and I was living in Baltimore where I didn't know a lot of people, so my evenings were usually spent working out, watching TV, or playing on the computer.

Lots of people have signed up so far - you can see them in the sidebar under the "February Bloggers" logo. I want to thank our fearless leader Kim for making the logo and programming the widget - and for helping us run our blogs!! Kim is a Slow Trav administrator and does a fantastic job!

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Good luck everybody!! (I know I need it...)

February 1, 2009

First day of February blogging!

Today is the first day of the Slow Trav February Blogging Challenge, which I talked about in my last post. You can see in the sidebar who is participating.

My goal is to try and keep my posts focused on travel, places, and culture. I still have a lot to write about Mexico - with the inauguration things just got really busy here in DC! - and I want to write about living in Bologna back in 2003-2004. One of the experiences I want to write about is the amazing Venetian masquerade ball I attended during the Carnevale of 2004.

Good luck to my fellow bloggers and happy February to everybody!

March 5, 2009

Another silly test

Silly tests have been all the rage among Slow Travelers lately. Here is one I hadn't seen before!

Train Horns

Created by Train Horns

April 18, 2009

Grateful

The wonderful Diana of Baur BB wrote a beautiful entry about gratitude the other day. Lately, I have thought a lot about how lucky I am to be able to travel and explore the world and her post inspired me to write down how grateful I am as well.

I am loved and I love.

I have the resources and freedom to travel.

I feel bubbles of joy in my heart when I think about the places I'll go.

I am going back to Italy after five years and the planning has made me so happy! Even buying little plastic bottles or test packing my bag makes me giddy.

I will once again be 100% surrounded by the Italian language. I will chat with grandmothers and shopkeepers and others whose path I cross.

I will ride trains to beautiful fields and interesting towns, while reading Italian magazines, chatting with my fellow passengers, and eating Italian food.

I will eat wonderful food.

I will visit beloved places and explore new ones. I will see old friends and make new ones.

For this I am grateful.

Don't think I'll see these guys again, though!
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Susan Boyle - Britain's Got Talent

Most people have probably seen this by now, but it doesn't matter - it is still so amazing! Susan Boyle is the somewhat matronly looking 47 year old who surprises and wows the judges and the audience on Britain's Got Talent. Just beautiful! Some of the scenes are particularly great - when Simon's face changes from his usual frown to an expression of amazement; when Pierce says "the biggest yes I have ever given"; when Amanda says that it was a privilege to listen to the performance. And she is right, it is a privilege to hear this beautiful voice, to see how happy she is is when they like her singing, and to realize that we can all reach our dreams. Brava Susan!!

Click here to see the video.

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