Stranger in a Strange Land: May 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Orlando Vacation

Summer vacation is just around the corner, which means it is about time your start planning your family’s annual summer vacation. If you have kids, why not consider Orlando, Florida for your vacation destination. Orlando has something for everyone, from Disney World to the Everglades. Better yet, rent an Orlando vacation home and enjoy the week in the comforts from your own home-away-from-home.

Graduation Present from the Government

Graduation. A time for celebration, relaxation and patting your self on the back for a job well done. Take a few weeks off and then prepare to start your new life in the working world with a great new job that you just landed because of your stellar academic credentials. Life is pretty good, isn’t it? Then, several months done the road reality comes crashing in as your student loan bills start coming and all of a sudden life isn’t so good. Don’t sweat it, get a student loan consolidation now and keep enjoying your college education.

A Vacationing House

Going on vacation? Sick of cramped hotel rooms, bug filled cabins and mildew smelling tents? This summer vacation why not stay in style with a vacation home rental. Instead of one room, now you can have a whole house, with bathrooms, kitchens and family rooms. There’s really no need to leave behind the comforts of home when you can just rent a home wherever you go.

A Vacationing House

Going on vacation? Sick of cramped hotel rooms, bug filled cabins and mildew smelling tents? This summer vacation why not stay in style with a vacation home rental. Instead of one room, now you can have a whole house, with bathrooms, kitchens and family rooms. There’s really no need to leave behind the comforts of home when you can just rent a home wherever you go.

Luxury Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas Baby. Why settle for only a weekend in an overpriced casino hotel when you can really live it up with Las Vegas Luxury Condos. Whether you are staying for a weekend, a week, a month or just get stuck and never leave, a luxury condo is the perfect investment. When you are not staying there, rent it out and actually make money, without the gamble.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Spring Cleaning

An April shower turns on and washes away the grainy sediment of a winter gone by. As suddenly as it starts, it stops, leaving the ground glistening with the misty lilac scent of renewal. Slowly, the sun yawns as it stretches from its cumulous pillow, casting filtered rays towards the earth and sending shadow puppets dancing across lawns. The sky transforms into a cobalt blue and the pavement becomes a mirror, blinding you with reflected light. Your groggy eyes adjust and through a post-hibernation squint you see the emerald blades of grass emerging from dust. A muddy sand lot, with its chain-link backstop broken down from years of intercepting strikes and the field’s trench-like baselines collecting the morning dew, is populated by a flock of fat robins feasting on suicidal earthworms. The robins scatter as neighborhood kids gather for the season’s first pow-wow, skidding to a stop and uprooting clumps of grass in the hallowed out handlebars of their silver BMX bikes. Around Asbury’s Althaus Wetlands the cattails begin to rust, the pussy willows start to fluff and a mother duck sets sail with six protégés giving her a mischievous chase. Everywhere, windows become screens, lawn mowers whirl, and people emerge from suddenly crowded garages. They take a deep breath and exhale the staleness of winter, becoming relaxed, refreshed and renewed by the spirit of Spring.

From the hazy confines of my basement’s storage room, my wife and I emerge from the piles of mildew-perfumed clothing, paperbacks that infest your fingernails with an invisible layer of dust, and a plethora of miscellaneous items that must grow through the dirt filled cracks of the cement floor. We carefully feel our way up the stairs, our line of vision obstructed by collapsing cardboard boxes and mislabeled Rubbermaid containers. At the top we head straight to the garage, dump the burdens of our materialistic ways, and return to the basement for more. Possessed by our own need for renewal, the spirit of Spring, we spend the weekend cleaning out our house and preparing for our crap… I mean garage sale.

I am amazed by the vast amounts of junk Kara and I have saved up in the two short years we have lived in Dubuque. Although at the time everything seemed to be an absolute necessity, now I question my judgment- and in some cases my sanity. Did I really need two indoor bike trainers? How many times have I actually sat at my bar? This black leather Ikea couch looks stellar, but damn it’s the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever sat in. And my books- were my library fines really so high that I thought it would be cheaper to buy instead?

By its very nature spring is a season for fresh starts- Hence the concept of spring-cleaning. At no other time of the year is cleaning pursued with such rigor. If we only did the deed throughout the year, there would be no need for one mega-weekend of cleaning and Goodwill donations. But that’s not the way it works. Spring is for cleaning, the rest of the year for accumulating junk. Looking around my now overfilled garage, I realize that eventually our materialistic ways get the best of us by making things too crowded. Gripped with a sense of claustrophobia, once a year we pass our junk off to somebody else in order to clear out enough room to start the accumulation over again. It’s a vicious cycle, but hey, it’s the American way.

But this year the cycle stops. This year my spring-cleaning is serious as Kara and I plan to sell almost everything we own. Furniture, desks, bikes, clothes, lamps and even our car. Everything but the cat (unless we get a good offer…). No, we aren’t moving to become Buddhist monks and shun possessions altogether. Although we are moving, it’s not to a monastery. We’re moving to Belgium, which is quite a long way to haul a bunch of stuff.

So stuff is what we are getting rid of. We’re leaving it all behind and looking to start anew. Surprisingly, it’s easier to do than I ever imagined. Sure, our infamous red couch that had to be air-evacuated from the third story deck of our Iowa City apartment will be hard to part with, but nothing lasts forever. It all has to go.

With each trip of stuff I haul upstairs and into the garage I feel as if I am shedding another layer of skin. As I let necessity wash away this unneeded accumulation, I feel lighter, maybe even a little exposed. I step out of the oil-slicked garage, take a breath of fresh air in the afternoon sunlight, and experience a sensation not felt since the simplicity of childhood. I am relaxed, refreshed and renewed- Just like Spring.

Moving Sale

I’m moving overseas and I’m selling all of my Home Furniture. Sofa, chair, bar, car, bikes, desk, clothes, tables, Everything Must Go. Then, when I get to my new destination, I have to start the whole process over again and buy all my Home Furniture. Sofa, bar, chair, car, bikes, desk, tables, Everything. Thank God we’ll be close to Ikea land, I just hope they deliver.

Be Prepared

I just got done reading a story that although local governments are well-prepared for disasters, the federal government is not. That being the case, it’s time to take matters into our own hands and follow the Boy Scout Motto of Always Be Prepared. Time to buy your Emergency Kits and depend on your self, not your government- It’s just safer that way.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Super Fun Adventure Travel Team

Dubuque is a city of circles. England has its unexplainable crop circles, Jack Byrnes has his rigid Circle of Trust, and the People’s Republic of Dubuque has its inaccessible social circles. Anyone who has either come back to Dubuque or is all together new to the city will agree: it can be hard to meet people in Dubuque. It’s not that Dubuquers are unfriendly. In fact, as I go for a run along Asbury and am greeted by complete strangers, I know just the opposite is true. It’s also not true that Dubuque doesn’t like new people, as is evidenced by its constant developments and drives to attract new blood. But somewhere under this shiny welcome banner is a subconscious infrastructure of closed doors. “They aren’t from Dubuque.” “They didn’t go to Loras.” “They don’t have kids.” “They moved away for awhile.” With every hushed statement, another circle is closed.

Personally, I’m used to living life on the periphery. I have never really been a full-fledged member of any one particular circle. In high school, I couldn’t be in the jock circle because I was also in band. Likewise, I didn’t fit the bill for the band circle because I was also a jock. Where did this leave me? Floating around space like a troubled satellite, endlessly bouncing off these forbidding celestial rings. Needless to say, when I moved back to Dubuque and discovered myself returning to orbit, I didn’t think anything of it. But when I heard similar complaints about the difficulty of breaking into the city’s ironclad social circles coming from a group of quasi-expat friends, I decided something needed to be done.

Being a rather creative group, we lost souls came up with a solution. If you can’t fit in a circle, draw your own. Hence, the birth of the Super Fun Adventure Travel Team. The Super Fun Adventure Travel Team is comprised of six adventuresome, global superheroes who all share a love for traveling the world, meeting new people and trying new beers. There’s The Freaky Deaky Dutch Duo, who are known for their abilities to quote Borat verbatim and confuse everyone during a game of spiked charades. “Yes, Do you like?” Then we have The Leak and Cheetah, have the respective super powers of establishing his territory with the expert marksmanship of a laser stream and her ability to develop an interesting cheetah disguise when exposed to the sun for too long. My wife, whose secret identity is The Spanish Fly, is known for her amazing ability to transform from a quiet, beach-bum gringo to a fluent, Spanish-speaking local all by drinking some magical, potent drink. Finally, there’s me, The Rum Runner, named for my outstanding ability to sprint down the sand and stumble into the Mojito Happy Hour, panting and wheezing, with only seconds to spare.

Although our super circle has had numerous adventures carousing downtown Dubuque, our inaugural international mission was a short jaunt to the Dominican Republic. Here our super powers were put to the test against our arch-nemesis, The Hangover. Although there were times when it looked like we would have to lay down in defeat, such as when The Leak simply fell out of his chair and slumped up against a palm tree, through a combination of super powers, friendship and obscene amounts of ibuprofen, we ultimately prevailed.

As always, it was hard to go home, especially when it meant leaving a warm sandy beach and returning to lovely sub-twenty degree spring weather. As my fellow super heroes boarded the plane, I realized that, for once, I had finally found my circle. Admittedly, this made going home a bit easier. But something about this whole picture just didn’t sit right with me. I was uncomfortable with the idea of perpetuating the problem by being part of yet another closed circle. In fact, I didn’t want to be in a circle at all as this goes completely against the Super Fun Adventure Travel Team’s philosophy of living life beyond the circle.

Immediately upon landing we called an emergency meeting to determine what to do about this imposing quandary. My fellow Dubuquers, I am pleased to announce that, by unanimous vote, the Super Fun Adventure Travel Team is now officially open to anybody and everybody. Our circle knows no boundaries. To join, all you need to do is have the willingness to try new beers, the desire to broaden your horizons, and the courage to step outside your comfort zone and discover the super experiences orbiting around you. After all, life is an adventure- so don’t forget your cape.

P.S. God bless you Mr. Vonnegut *