Articles by sean

Canadian Honeymoon

I recently got married, and my wife and I decided to take our honeymoon (a post-wedding vacation) in the Canadian Rocky Mountains near Banff, Alberta.  We stayed in a small chalet abutting a roaring “creek”, (a river, where I come from!) next to train tracks that cut through the valley, with the Transnational Canadian Highway on one side, and the old Bow Valley Parkway on the other.

The trip was amazing; we saw caribou, ground squirrels (who act just like prairie dogs… they even whistle!), herons, ravens, grizzly bears, black bears, Canadian geese (in Canada!), black-billed magpies, gray jays, ospreys, chipmunks, and various other critters. I was really hoping to see a marmot, but no such luck.  We were a bit apprehensive about the bears, until we realized that apparently other tourists had never heard that bears or other wildlife could be dangerous, and would get out of their cars and get way too close to them.  So we just stayed behind the idiot tourists, and felt pretty safe.

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August 22, 2012 3 comments

Rites of Autumn: The Midwest in the Fall

Usually, when people think of the Midwest, they think of a flat, boring, rural place, covered in corn and soybean fields – way too hot and muggy in the summer, and way too cold in the Winter. Well, that’s about half right. There’s really lots of urban areas, and even some elevation changes (Wisconsin, Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota, Southern Ohio). Though by and large, the Midwest is pretty flat.

Summers are oppressively hot, unless you live near the Great Lakes. Mosquitoes bite, cicadas buzz and keep you up at night, and electric bills skyrocket from keeping the house or apartment air-conditioned.

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September 28, 2011 1 comment

Bicycle culture (and subculture) in the USA

Abroad, a lot of people conceptualize America as a “car-culture”. And they are, in large part, correct. It’s estimated that as many as 1 of every 6 jobs in the US is either directly or indirectly related to the auto industry. America’s rise to global economic stardom can be tied to the auto industry as well, along with the fossil fuel, agricultural, and arms industries. It’s hard to say for certain which came first, Americans’ propensity towards ultra-individualism, or the car, but they definitely are a marriage made in heaven.

My bike! (A hybrid)Something that doesn’t get a lot of press internationally is the growing number of people in the USA who don’t own cars at all. Especially in larger cities, where public transportation is available, the combination of higher gas prices, parking fees, maintenance fees, inevitable parking tickets, road rage, and environmental impact are making it more and more attractive to explore non-auto options for transportation. As of 2009 35 million people in the USA took public transportation of some kind every weekday, not including people who walk or bicycle. Bicycle commuters in the USA are becoming a larger and larger demographic. In fact, in Portland Oregon, over 5% of commuter trips are taken on a bicycle. In the city of Chicago, where I reside, the number is much lower (1.15%) but that’s a 129% increase between 2000 and 2009, and all indications are that the number keeps going up.

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May 20, 2011 1 comment

Should we talk about the weather?

One of the peculiarities of living in a country as big as the USA that touches two oceans, two major gulfs, straddles the continental divide, and has climates ranging from sub-tropical forests, to snow-covered mountain ranges, all the way to sub-arctic (if Alaska counts)… is the differences in the weather, and to a lesser extent, natural disasters. The East Coast gets hurricanes, and the Northern seaboard can also get hammered with snow and “Nor’Easters” (storms blowing from the Northeast). The Midwest has abysmal snowy winters, thunderstorms, and tornadoes and in the Spring and Summer. The West coast has earthquakes, torrential rains, wildfires and sometimes mudslides. In the Pacific Northwest, it rains, then it rains, and sometimes it rains some more. The South sees severe Thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and ice storms in the winter.

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February 23, 2011 6 comments

It’s Christmas in Chicago!

Christmas is celebrated every year on December 25th by Christians around the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and the 12 days after in which “Three Wise Men” followed a bright shining star to the site of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem… but is also celebrated by many non-religious people in many places in the United States. Many families will put up a Christmas tree (a fir tree decorated with lights and ornaments); will decorate their houses with lights, fir boughs, and wreaths.

Christmas comes out of a lot of pre-Christian European traditions, specifically Yule, and the main marker of modern Christmas celebrations in the USA is the exchange of gifts. Adults and children alike will receive gifts, and many adults have lists of hundreds of people that they’ll send Christmas greeting cards to.

Daley Plaza's Christmas Tree
Daley Plaza’s Christmas Tree

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December 14, 2010 6 comments

Dia de los Muertos

November 2nd is Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), a holiday celebrated in Mexico to remember the departed. Friends and family get together to remember and pray for dead relatives and friends, special foods are prepared and eaten, parties are sometimes thrown, and altars are graves are adorned with ofrendas (offerings) of flowers (especially marigolds), skeleton figurines, and pictures and other items that remind mourners of the deceased, or that were treasured by the deceased.

Grave adorned with marigolds (Source: Wikipedia)
Grave adorned with marigolds (Source: Wikipedia)

Dia de los Muertos coincides with the Catholic holiday ”All Souls Day,” and traditionally following gatherings at the house, a procession will make its way to the local cemetery to lay flowers and other items at graves of loved ones, and to pray. Special reverence may be given to Santa Muerte (Saint Death); not a saint in the traditional sense, but a kind of demigod treated as a saint, who is petitioned for special favors that other saints cannot grant.

Santa Muerte (Source: Wikipedia)
Santa Muerte (Source: Wikipedia)

So why am I writing about a Mexican holiday?  (more…)

October 27, 2010 2 comments