Tag Archives: Friends

A Wisconsin Summer With The People Who Matter Most

As I entered the baggage claim, I heard an old friend’s voice calling my name. But where was he?

My head swiveled around, confused. Then, Matt* rolled up to me in a purloined wheelchair with a big smile on his face.

That’s when I knew this would be an interesting trip.

A mural in Milwaukee celebrating the great Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks!

One of the greatest things about the world today is how we’re getting back to the moments we used to love. In person events, concerts, and travel are finally returning to brighten our lives after a long absence.

I’m back today from the most wonderful vacation I’ve had in a long time! I got to see my mother and my old friends in Wisconsin for the first time since COVID.

I began with a visit with Matt in Milwaukee.

We’ve known each other since the 8th grade. I’m lucky to have such a longstanding friendship.

It had been nearly three years since we’d seen each other, but we didn’t miss a beat! We laughed all the way home from the airport, always on an adventure no matter what we’re doing.

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Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge

Dinner was airy spanikopita and delicate baklava at Sts. Constantine and Helen Grecian Fest. Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, and in the warmer months there are celebrations of heritage and food almost every day.

The next day, I grabbed the bus north to my mother’s house. Getting to hug her after nearly three years apart felt like the end to the difficult period the world has been in for the last several years.

Or…almost the end. Ironically, we both got COVID for the first time as soon as I arrived!

Luckily, our symptoms were mild and we’ve made full recoveries. And on the bright side, COVID kept us close to home and enjoying the simple things, like reading on the glider as deer and chipmunks passed by.

Deer in the yard
The view from the glider

We played cards with the same deck we used with my great grandpa 30 years ago. We walked slowly down the streets at sunset, just happy to be together again.

Frozen custard at Culver’s a Wisconsin must!

After about a week, I came back to Milwaukee to meet Matt again, joined by our friend Brian* from Madison. When we all lived in the same neighborhood shortly after college, we were an inseparable trio.

But we hadn’t been together all at once since 2018. We ambled down the charming industrial streets like the Three Musketeers, always more excited when it’s all three of us together.

When they dropped me at the airport to go home to New York, I wanted nothing more than to stay! But they have work they need to get back to, and so do I.

There’s only so many times I can go three or four years without seeing friends and family. At that interval, I might see them a dozen more times at most before we’re all gone.

So I plan to come more often and enjoy that special feeling of being around those I love and have known the longest. As Dorothy said, there’s no place like home.

More on travel:

A Special Weekend in Stokes State Forest

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

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*Names have been changed

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

Our car wound into the hills along deserted roads. The scenery went from small towns to vast woods. We crunched down a gravel path to a secluded camp site along a lake. This was Stokes State Forest.

This weekend, I went camping with some friends in this beautiful spot in northwestern New Jersey. I can heartily recommend it for its varied scenery and peaceful ambience. Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect if you visit:

Location: About 70 miles northwest of New York City in the beautfiul Delaware Water Gap, just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. If you’re in the NYC area, this is one of the more convenient campgrounds to visit.

Scenery: The most varied I’ve seen yet, after having been to Harriman State Park and the Catskills in New York and the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. We saw small mountains, ponds, lakes, marshes, and plains all within a 5 mile hike!

Wildlife: We saw squirrels, a beaver dam, and even a bald eagle circling above us! You’ll see a lot of signs warning about bears. Be sure not only food but anything aromatic like lotion, toothpaste etc. is inside your car or in a bear bag when you go to sleep. Don’t take chances.

Amenities: There are water spigots with fresh, cold H2O everywhere. The nearest was about 50 feet from our camp site. There were also nice, clean bathrooms just a couple hundred feet away. The only available showers, however, were in the Lake Ocquittunk area, which was so far from our campsite we had to drive. This was a definitive negative, but at least the water was hot when we got there! The fire rings and the campsites in general are beat up from heavy use, but functional.

Cost: $40 for two nights. Split between the three of us, it was negligible.

Unexpected benefit: Compared to the Pine Barrens, where we often camp, Stokes State Forest has fewer ticks, which makes it a good summer camping spot.

Watch out for: Fire bans. Because it had been windy the day we arrived, there was a fire ban that lasted most of the trip. This is a real problem: you don’t have a heat source or a way to cook. I’d strongly recommend bringing a butane camp stove. Ours is a Coleman and it’s great. It cost about $30.

We sat around the fire (once the fire ban expired) and gobbled up pork chops, sausages, and s’mores. When nature called in the morning, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise over the nearby lake.

This is a beautiful spot! If you’re in the area, I encourage you to check it out!

For more on camping and the outdoors, check out these posts:

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In GameStop, An Unlikely Community

I spent some time browsing the GME sub* on Reddit yesterday, curious what some of the stock’s most fervent supporters are saying. What I found surprised me.

The most striking discussions were intensely personal. One poster described saving up his GameStop winnings for sex reassignment surgery, a lifelong dream (usernames redacted):

Other posters, who call themselves “apes” in a reference to the movie Planet of the Apes, were extraordinarily supportive. Some even expressed a determination to hold the stock to help the original poster, even though one person selling or holding won’t have a material impact on the price. There were a few salty words for hedge funder Ken Griffin though:

It struck me that, in a time when people are forced to be apart, humans have managed to create community in the most unlikely of places. It says something about the human spirit than even in a disembodied online world, where the topic is an intangible financial instrument, brotherhood (and sisterhood) flourishes. I find it rather beautiful.

That said, I encourage the posters to simply support each other as people, rather than tying that to a stock. Take it from a professional investor: a stock doesn’t know you own it and doesn’t care about you. It’s a legal construct that gives you ownership rights in a company. And truth be told, it’s a shaky business. I’d hate to see such nice people get hurt.

For more on GameStop and the Reddit trade, check out these posts:

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*A sub, or subreddit, is a thematic category on the discussion website Reddit

Photo: “Gorilla ‘Kibo'” by to.wi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What Made Me Happy in 2020

We are waving goodbye to this year, and a lot of people are saying good riddance. But I’ve been thinking to myself, how can I write off an entire year of my life? Even optimistically, it’s at least 1% of my existence. So lately I’ve been reflecting on all the great parts of 2020. These are some things I have been grateful for in this most unusual of years:

  • My dear little pet gerbil lived over 3/4ths of this year, so I can never say 2020 was bad. He passed away in October, and in 2021 I’ll be without him the entire year. So since I had the joy of being with him in 2020, I can never say 2020 was bad.
  • I made more new friends this year than in the prior 5, oddly enough. I think people are reaching out for human contact, but also trying to be safe. My relationships with my existing friends also became deeper as distractions were removed and all of us needed more of each other’s support.
  • I discovered yoga, which helped me heal from a tendon injury that made it hard to walk. I now have a great new hobby I plan to vigorously pursue in the New Year. It also provides me a community of great people to talk to.
  • I got into camping, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy but came to love. As our usual activities shut down, my friends and I went to the one thing that was open: the woods. We deepened our friendships by facing challenges together and found peace amongst nature.
  • I will truly appreciate getting to see family and non-local friends again. Normally, I would’ve seen them from time to time as a matter of course, but being deprived of that this year means I’ll relish their company all the more in 2021.
  • I’ll also really enjoy being in a crowd of friends, being able to act in TV shows and movies, volunteering at the animal shelter and other activities I can’t do now.
  • I gained real understanding that the world can change absolutely unpredictably in an instant. I had only ever seen gradual change before in my life. That will give me greater insight into the world and help me prepare for other challenges.
  • Even though unexpected changes can happen, I realized certain solid habits like exercise, a decent diet, and saving money set you up well for any eventuality.
  • I gained greater confidence in myself. I assimilated new information quickly about testing, masks, etc. and successfully kept myself and my family safe. I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through most anything, and I think the same is true of society at large.
  • This blog! I was searching for a lockdown-proof hobby and rediscovered my interest in writing. We’ve had views from countries as far away as Belgium, India, Dubai and Nigeria. What a joy to be able to connect with people from all over the world!

What did you enjoy in 2020, despite all the difficulties this year has presented? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!

“New Year’s Eve 2020 at Numbers” byenigmaarts is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I Found a Secret Gym!

One of the benefits of not travelling in 2020 has been discovering what’s right around me. I’ve made more new friends this year than in the prior 5 years combined. I find myself actually (perish the thought!) saying hello to neighbors! We’re even exchanging baked goods like something out of the 1950’s. And it’s totally awesome.

Besides new friends, I just discovered something else: the building I’ve been living in for 2.5 years has a gym! I peeked through a hole in the laundry room wall, where plumbers were working on a pipe. As I got closer, I could hardly believe what I saw. A secret room filled with…exercise equipment?

I passed through a door marked Meter Room, past our electric meters, and went through a second door…this one unmarked. Inside was a gym straight out of the 1970’s. Rusty iron weights, exercise bikes without a single transistor, and bodybuilding posters from decades ago.

Our superintendent created this gym entirely on his own. It’s not the Equinox, but the equipment is surprisingly varied and of high quality. He made it for himself and shared it with whoever might wish to use it. After his recent retirement and return to his home country of Colombia, he left all this here for us.

Working out in this secluded space alongside exposed pipes makes me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger at Gold’s Gym in the 1970’s. Until I look into one of the mirrors, at least. 🙂

I wanted to tell you about this to emphasize the wonderful things we gain from being at home more this year. We are not just missing out on travel, concerts, etc. We get something too…a new familiarity with and appreciation for the world right outside our own doors.

It also shows me the great effect one person can have on others, even others they’ve never met, with just a little care and individual initiative. People our superintendent will never see will be healthier because of what he did. What a great example for the rest of us!

How are you guys staying healthy this year? What have you discovered nearby? Let me know in the comments!