Friday, April 24, 2015

The Darkness and The Babadook

I've always had a love-hate relationship with scary movies.  I've been drawn to them in fascination, transfixed on the ability to scare us as humans with anything and everything under the sun.  I always wondered why certain people feared clowns over poltergeists or drowning over being burnt alive.  Growing up, I would stay up late, watching the shows and movies I knew would give me nightmares.  I didn't want to be scared, that sick feeling in your stomach, the quickening of your heart rate that leaves you breathless; it's one of the worst feelings in the world.  But to understand fear, to really break apart whatever it was that scared me, that's where my fascination lies.

Recently I've been watching more and more scary movies.  Going through the most recent blockbusters and picking up a few lesser titles and giving them a chance.  So when a friend suggested I watch Babadook, I got on my Netflix and hit play on a rainy afternoon.

The film is a far cry from the monsters of current Hollywood.  It's not a ghost or some spirit that drags you across the ceiling, leaves strange cult-like marks on your skin or bathroom walls, and the gore is minimal.  Without spoiling the entire film, Amelia is a broken single mother who lost her husband in a tragic car accident while they were driving to the hospital to give birth to her son, Sam.  It's been 7 years, but Amelia can't seem to get out of her own sadness and it's taken a toll on Sam, labeling him as the odd one out at school.  Sam discovers a children's book called "Mister Babadook" about a monster that appears friendly at first, but if you "let it in" will show it's true colors.  Of course strange things begin to happen at night and the monster reveals itself within their home.  Unlike the current ghost stories or monster movies, Babadook is more than just a monster that lives in our closet or underneath our bed.  He lives within us, he is the darkness, the sadness, and despair that exists in the depths of humanity.

The film got me thinking about monsters, the idea of evil introduced to us as children.  In a way perhaps preparing us for the real world.  For when we grow up, we realize there are monsters inside us all.  For Amelia and Sam, one thing is clear, they desperately love one another, but are terrified of themselves and the potential darkness within each of them.  The Babadook feeds off their instability, Amelia is unable to cope with the loss, leaving Sam without the traditional form of mother's love.

The film takes a twist when the monster possessed Amelia, begging the question; is she possessed or is the Babadook just a darker part of Amelia.  Either way, Sam takes action promising his mother that he will love her no matter what, that she cannot see how deeply she too loves him because she let the Babadook in.

Monster or no monster, the film has great merit when it comes to fear.  The idea of letting something in, letting in manifest internally as fear, that's what fear is all about.  Carl Jung, founding father of analytical psychology once said; "To confront a person with his own Shadow is to show him his own light".

As the film closes, the monster hasn't left but is trapped in the basement with all of Sam's father's things.  The monster will never leave, it's simply put into the depths of Amelia's home, perhaps into the depths of her heart until she lets in the loss, sadness, and perhaps goes into the basement to look through her late husbands things once more.  She acknowledged her monster, her Babadook, which perhaps as Jung implied is the only way to truly see the light.

The film didn't leave me looking underneath my bed at night, but looking deeper within myself.  What darkness lies within us?  And can we ever really escape it?  Or are we destined to keep it in the basement of our hearts until the next garage sale.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning isn't just about riding your closet of winter clothes, especially for those of us living in a place where the sun always shines and crop tops are a legitimate option even in the dead of winter.  Spring cleaning is about welcoming a new season, new dreams, new goals, new new new!

So ask yourself, what is it that needs to change?  Start with a bad habit.  Maybe it's biting your nails, maybe it's jumping to conclusions a little too fast, or perhaps you've got one hell of a sweet tooth.  Whatever it is, take a step towards riding yourself of the habit.

What about the things that scare you?  Are they holding you back?  Start by acknowledging the fear, create awareness around it, commit yourself to facing it head on.  And the same goes for beliefs.  Dump the beliefs that have been holding you back.  The "I can'ts" must go. You can.

So you're starting to rid your life of the negatives, why not fill those holes with positives.  Track your life, what works? What doesn't work?  What is worth spending time on?  Fit in the things and people that matter.  Repair or build upon the relationships that have been swept to the side.  Tell them you love them, no matter what kind of love it is.  Get healthy.  Seriously, the winter months are over so that spare tire isn't doing you any good anymore.  The better your health, the better your energy.

And sure your wardrobe could use an update, it's spring after all.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fleet Night of Science

Last Thursday, we ventured to the first Fleet Night of Science at San Diego's Ruben H. Fleet Science Center.  After living in cities like London, with it's vast and mostly free museums, and Boston where the intellectuals of Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern come together to share knowledge, Balboa Park's Science Museum fails to impress.  But with 8 (yes, only 8) exhibits, you too can check out the museum (for the steep entry fee of 17.95).  So when complimentary tickets fell into my lap for the museum's first "Adult" night, I couldn't come up with a reason not to go.

I arrived around 7:00 p.m., 30 minutes after the night began, to find the museum's main entry way had been transformed into a craft beer hall.  Local brews decorated the room and at just $4 a bottle, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.  I ordered a Ballast Point IPA and took a seat at the first table I saw.  Large blue plastic bins were placed in front of us, various ingredients like baking soda, a yellow liquid, and water were strewn about.  That's when I noticed the plastic covering on the floor.  This was going to be messy.  I removed myself and my beer from the table and decided to sit this one out.  Soon the dozen or so people around the rectangular table were pouring the ingredients into zip lock bags.  A quick shake and bang, exploding zip lock bags galore.

Unfortunately the upstairs exhibits were closed to the public, while the DJ stood over the crowd mixing jazz with electronic beats.  I mingled through the crowd, clinking my beer with the throngs of couples and academic types.  A neurosurgeon introduced himself, explaining he was there to give a talk about neurons, that by chance was starting in 10 minutes.  I followed him into the theatre and took my seat.

He began with an introduction to the brain, what makes us tick? What does the brain do? He then brought out a container of cockroaches, removing one from the plastic tank and asking for an anesthesiologist from the crowd.  A young woman raised her hand and placed the roach in a cup of freezing water. Numb and done.  He then asked for a surgeon to come to the front.  Another young woman arrived, doing as he instructed, she cut off the leg of the roach and hooked it up to sensors, to measure electromagnetic waves from the tip of the roach's toes to it's brain, which was sitting 3 feet away in the cup of cold water.  Hooking the sensors to a microphone, we were soon hearing it's "brain waves" each time the furry toes of the roach were poked.  I couldn't help but feel sorry for the roach as I got up and ordered another beer.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April Showers bring...

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Discovering all the 'In n' Out's

Growing up on the East Coast, In N' Out Burger was the stuff of legends.  Of course my local McDonalds did serve Lobster Rolls, so I couldn't exactly complain, but as I got older I longed to unlock the burger chains hidden secrets.  Why was it so magical? 

When I moved to California nearly 3 years ago, I had my first taste.  Holy Magic.  Luckily I went with a true magician who knew the secret menu like the back of his hand.  The secret menu was only the first piece of evidence that this was going to be a long love-hate relationship with California's Mecca of Fast Food.

Double Meat
two 100% pure beef patties hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread, with or without onions, stacked high on a freshly baked bun
4 x 4
four 100% pure beef patties, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread, four slices of American cheese, with or without onions, stacked high on a freshly baked bun
Protein Style
your favorite burger wrapped in hand-leafed lettuce instead of a bun
3 x 3
three 100% pure beef patties, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread, three slices of American cheese, with or without onions, stacked high on a freshly baked bun
Grilled Cheese
two slices of melted American cheese, hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, spread with or without onions on a freshly baked bun
Animal Style
burger of your choice with hand-leafed lettuce, tomato, a mustard cooked beef patty; add pickle, extra spread with grilled onions

And if you think you know the "secret menu" think again.  Did you know you can order your burger medium rare? Oh yeah.  And definitely order your fries "well done". That extra crunch really makes a difference.

Suddenly I was addicted.  It wasn't just the fresh taste of really simple ingredients that made me go ga-ga, it was like being in a secret society.  One of the chosen ones who held the key to the meaning of life.  That's when I discovered the Bible passages at the bottom of the cups and bags.  Talk about secret, meaning-of-life stuff right there.

So I began to do some research about my new secret club.  Founded in 1948, In n' Out was the first fast-food joint to open a drive through.  Funny enough it wasn't for your convenience.  In fact, the owners couldn't afford enough real estate for a parking lot, so they decided to hook a speaker up and viola!  It wasn't until 1980, when the company was passed down to their son, a born-again-Christian, who decided to give us the Bible verses on the bottom of our cups.

Jesus aside, the company is a great one to work for.  Apparently managers can make up to 100K a year and receive full dental, health insurance and awesome vacation bonuses.  Not to mention the current president is one of the world's youngest female billionaires.  Of course, she's inherited the title with the little known fact she is the granddaughter of the original founders, but I'm sure there was a ton of hard work thrown into the nepotism mix. Where do I apply?

And more importantly is anyone else hungry?

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing and I have a confession to make; as a 26 year old American, I don't really have any memory of the incident.  Sure in the years after, Timothy McVeigh was a household name on the evening news, but the event, the explosion, I don't ever remember being exposed to it.  I don't remember being scared or thinking about the people who's lives ended.

The thing is, it's not like 1995 was a quiet year.  O.J. Simpson was declared innocent for one.  Windows 95 was released. We docked with the Russian Space Center for the first time.  I remember watching Toy Story, the first fully computer animated film. And GoldenEye, which to this day is one of the best James Bond films ever made.  Jim Carrey gave us Ace Venture; When Nature Calls, I fell in love with a ghost names Casper and never wanted to play a board game ever again, after Robin Williams was sucked into Jumanji. I saw TLC perform "Creep" on Nickelodeon's "All That" and instantly fell in love. I remember Selena's murder and wondering why someone would kill such a promising talent.  I even remember Christopher Reeve's paralyzing accident, perhaps mainly because my teacher had a thing for Superman.

So why don't I remember the bombing?

Now a days, there is an explosion anywhere in the country and we speculate whether or not it's an accident or an act of terrorism.  Even 20 years later, we are reporting the threat is still at large.  The April 19th incident remains the largest domestic act of terrorism in U.S. history, killing 168 people, and injuring hundreds more.  The attack took America by surprise.  The idea that an American would turn on their own people, their own government, was something new.

I remember 9/11 clearly.  It was like any other day.  And when a few students were pulled from our middle school classrooms, we thought nothing of it.  At lunchtime, the principal told us there had been a plane crash but didn't elaborate.  Planes crashed.  It wasn't something new.  As I walked home down the long dirt road to my house, I noticed both my parents cars in the driveway, probably the first and last time I would ever see both my parents home on a "school day".  I remember watching the planes crash into the towers over and over again, various anchors tearing up as they tried to tell us what was happening just a few hours away.  The planes had left from here, from Boston, the planes were carrying our loved ones.  I don't remember feeling fear, just an overwhelming sense of confusion, of sadness.

Pulitzer Prize winning photograph
Taken by Charles Porter IV
Then again two years ago, April 15th, Marathon Monday, I wished my friends running good luck before they kicked off.  When the first bomb went off I threw up.  I was completely overwhelmed with fear and anger.

2 decades have passed since the bombing that I simply can't recall.  Perhaps I was too young to know what was happening, too busy discovering TLC and falling in love with Pierce Brosnan.  Perhaps it simply caught us off guard, our parents didn't know how to tell us and the media had never dealt with an attack on domestic soil of this magnitude.

As I look through the 'iconic' photos of the blast, they aren't familiar.  I re-read survivors stories over and over trying to remember the ordeal.  But I was far enough away, trying to wrap my 6 year old brain around why the OJ Simpson trial wasn't just about a man who allegedly killed his wife.  And how there are people living in an International Space Station. The world was still so big, there wasn't a constant Internet connection connecting us all, no status updates, no 24 hour feeds, no insta-photos detailing what type of Breakfast the president had or how many people are dying in third world countries.  I wasn't afraid of the possibilities that the world had to offer, both good and bad.

Today as I take my seat at a desk in a San Diego newsroom, I'm watching the aftermath.  Bill Clinton is speaking in Oklahoma City, assuring the city they are strong and fearless.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Strike You're Out!

Unless I'm watching Johnny Damon circa 2004 with the hair and the beard and the.... woah there, got a little... well you see my point.  Unless I'm looking at that god out on the field, Baseball can be a real bore.  Too bad, going to games every 2-3 weeks is part of my job requirement.  And what's worse, is I have to get a group of international language students excited about the game.

Strike, you're out.

The season is now in full swing (pun intended) and last week I joined around 30 students for their first baseball experience ever.  For many of these students, baseball isn't something people play in their home countries.  In fact, the game remains a complete mystery to them.  The idea that the game has no set time, no "goals", and the players spend 90% of their time standing in the field tends to baffle them.

Sitting in the bleachers underneath Petco Park's brand new scoreboard, I took one question after the next:

"How do we know who to root for?"
"Are we allowed to cuss?"
"Why is the beer $10 a can?"
"Why are they all so fat?"
"Are they even playing?"
"How do we know when we can leave?"
"Do we really have to stay the entire 3 hours?"
"Is there something exciting at the end of the game?"
"How do we know when to cheer?"
"Is this it?"

Funny thing was I had no idea how to answer any of them.  I mean sure, I could explain the rules of baseball, explain in numbers pitching and hitting averages and why San Diego cares about their team.  But as a Bostonian, San Diego's lax idea of fandom still baffles me.  They didn't know when to cheer because the noise of the stadium remained steady through out the game.  Innings came and went without announcements, and I began to see the experience through the eyes of someone who knew nothing about the game.  

"Is this it?" 

Yes, that's all there is.  Overpriced food with under-enthusiastic fans.  Of course not all Padres Fans are luke warm, nor are all games the same steady sound of people munching, drinking and chatting amongst themselves.  But that's what these games have become, a seat to a social event.  One where you pay for the experience to gather with 1000 other people and watch men stand around in colored uniforms, while you drink over priced beer.  


© The Traveling Barnacle

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The Best Poutine in SD

Never heard of Poutine?  Then you've probably never been drunk in Canada.  Poutine is the ultimate late night, usually after a bar, snack.  In London, the go-to are late-night kabob shops. Here in San Diego, we've all got that late-night burrito joint that we hit up before we pack it up and pass out for the night.  Poutine is the Canadian version of those late-night snacks.  Imagine hand cut french fries, cheese curds and an amazing gravy made from a blend of different stocks and spices.  Nom nom nom.  Still not getting it?  It's the Canadian version of Carne Asada fries man.

So now that you're drooling, I've got some good news; Poutine, and I mean legit ridiculous good poutine, has finally come to San Diego.  Mess Royale is making waves and expanding the waistlines of the entire city, it's about time you too got in on the action.

I know, I know, if you have been drunk in Canada you're probably rolling your eyes at me.  "It can't be legit"!  You say.  Yeah well, my thoughts exactly, so I took myself out for a lovely taste test dinner date.  The results are in.

Lets just start off with the menu.  It's ridiculous.  They start out with the OG Poutine, you know the thing I was talking about before, fries, cheese curds and gravy.  But it only gets better from there.  You can add bacon, pulled pork, New York style pastrami, and a more SD friendly alternative the El Pancho, with rib eye and strip steak seasoned with Montreal steak spice.   But it doesn't stop there.  Canada, just like your favorite SD late-night burrito place doesn't just have Poutine on the menu.  There are bagel sandwiches that rival the bakeries of Brick Lane, complete with salmon, pulled pork, Canadian bacon (duh) and slow cooked candied bacon bites.  To give you a better idea of just how ridiculously fantastic these bagels are, well they're flown in twice a week from St-Viateur, a legendary bakery in Montreal.  I made sure to take a bagel (or two) home with me.

Drooling yet?

And if you're still bored, then order a Toastie.  It's like a Montreal-style hot dog.  Your dog is nestled between a toasted and buttered (a necessity) bun and topped with mustard, relish, onions and a home-made coleslaw.  And if you're a vegetarian, you can still eat like a king.  I saw grilled cheese items, salads, and you can always get the Poutine without the gravy!

As hard as I tried I couldn't fit in desert, but I've heard it's amazing.  Next time?

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Now Accepting Applications: Ghost Town Guide

We all know there are some crazy jobs out there.  Throw in a love for travel and suddenly they're not so crazy.  Tiger tamer in Thailand? Why not!  Archaeological Artist in Argentina? Duh!  But the most recent job to hit the recruitment circuit is a little more risky than most, but that's only if you believe in ghosts.

The good ole' Federal Government is behind this one folks.  They want to give you a job, complete with free food, free housing and well probably some pretty awesome health benefits.  The only catch is you're going to live in one of the country's most intact Ghost Towns.  Garnet, Montana is a remote mountain town, founded with the discovery of gold.  But like most gold-mining Mecca's in the U.S. by the 1940's the boom was further west.  Thus a ghost town was born.

Of course the town has visitors, you know a handful of tourists here and there, and volunteers selected by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.  These 'employees' give tours, run the tiny gift shop and keep the site up to code.  Of course they also get the perks of a free cabin, food stipend and the freedom from modern amenities like the Internet or running water.  On the plus side, those lost Netflix hours are spent exploring the trails and of course all the artifacts left behind.

So I began packing my bags for Montana when I remembered that Garnet is not just a ghost town but an actual GHOST town!  At least that's the rumor on the (ghostly) streets. Residents and visitors claim that once the sun goes down, that's when the spirits come alive.


According to a 2010 article published in the Helena Independent Record:
Ellen Baumler, the Montana Historical Society’s resident ghost whisperer and author, wrote that at midnight, people have heard ghostly fingers striking piano keys, with the music floating across the empty buildings. She said that especially during the winter months, Garnet visitors see visions and hear unearthly noises.
“Late at night, the spirits of Garnet come out to play in the moonlight,” Baumler wrote in Montana Chillers. “Sometimes, in the deep winter quiet, a piano tinkles in Kelley’s Saloon and the spirits dance to ghostly music. Men’s voices echo in the empty rooms. But the moment a living, human hand touches the building, the noises stop.”
[...] Winter visitors tell of transparent figures, clad in old-fashioned clothing, wandering the streets and footprints in fresh snow leading into buildings but never come out from them.
“They cause no trouble and anyone who visits the deserted town in the dead of winter should be prepared to meet them,” Baumler wrote. “They hide in the shadows, laugh in the wind, and come out when you least expect them.”
Ok so maybe I should start un-packing...  Then again, it doesn't sound like Garnet's ghosts are all that troublesome, except for the whole "come out when you least expect them" thing. 

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

150 Years At Appomattox

The air filled with smoke as the cannons rang every eardrum in the town of Appomattox. The reenactment of the final battle of the Civil War had begun. It was quite a scene to behold as the men in grey crouched in between two hills letting the cannons fire off behind and in front of them. The men in blue were slow to advance but as the smoke cleared both armies were in formation. The crowd hollered and hooted, “Get them Yankees”. It was then I realized I was one of the very few brave souls to be wearing a blue union hat. There were a few occasions when my friend, wearing the confederate grey hat, was told he was crazy to be seen with a northerner. We didn’t mind as we took in the battle. 

Soldiers were lining their rifles up to defend their land one more time. It was in this very town 150 years ago that Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Ulysses S. Grant. The event was throughout the town as buses and vans were shuttling people to many different sites. The Appomattox Historical Society lead the charge in creating a once in a life time event that showed how country come back together. In Appomattox Court House National Historic Park you could visit several houses that stood during the final days of the Civil War, as well as the reenactor’s campsites. It was here that small demonstrations were held to show, cannon and gun fire, cavalry forces, and the paroling of southern troops. On the other side of town, was held the actual reenactment of the final battle. This site included food tents, shopping tents, and a much larger scale campsite. 

While I was at the second site I purchased a music player which could be wound up and play the tune of ‘Oh Susanna’. I also purchased an infamous ‘DON’T TREAD ON ME’ yellow flag with the rattle snake hissing out any person foolish enough to attempt to take away a states right. I’m glad I was able to get these keepsakes, and even more grateful I could witness history. The 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War should be remembered as a point when we truly became a united set of states and realize started to exemplify our nation’s motto “E Pluribus Unum”.

Written by Guest Blogger: Robert Barnacle
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Monday, April 13, 2015


We #Hashtag everything from our photographs to our thoughts in less than 140 characters.  We're obsessed with what's trending in the Inter-web, after all some of us are famous in Japan.  We use filters to hide our blemishes, both physical and emotional.  Lonely?  How am I lonely with a smile like that!  Fat?  A little bit of airbrushing fixes everything.  Poor?  Haha! Just check out this photo with #Bling #LivingLikeaRockStar! Everything is a bit distorted, a bit altered, and a bit on the surface.  Those of us who are brave enough, share photographs that announce we're not hiding anything #nofilter, but then again it may just be part of the illusion.

And while altering your lifestyle through photographs, status updates and locations around the world really lets everyone know that you're #winning, it also leaves some of us unsatisfied with the concept of #NaturalBeauty.

Just 38 minutes after stepping onto the trail head, I found myself standing on the summit of Cowels Mountain, overlooking San Diego County to the West, with the Pacific Ocean somewhere hidden in the fog.  We sat in a row, myself and the 11 others who ventured up with me, watching as the sun slowly sank into the mist.  We eagerly awaited the elusive "green flash" as we breathed it all in.  No filters, no hashtags, no perceived reality. The sunset itself is a filter, the fresh air, the genuine look of accomplishment standing on the ledge says more about your life than any hashtag or status update; it's simply a matter of reminding yourself to unplug, un-filter and unwind.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mile-High Cuddle Club

Most vacations start out with a kink in the neck from that oh-so-wonderfully drug induced in-flight nap.  The good news is soon those naps are going to get a whole lot more comfortable, at least that's what Boeing is promising with their new "cuddle chairs".

The device lives just underneath your seat.  Reach down, unfold and voila!  It's basically a forward facing backpack with a head cushion, creating a "face relief aperture" for you to rest your little head on.  Apparently the angle is just right for a good flight's sleep.

So far, it's just a patent application, but could this be the future of travel as we know it?  And if I'm giving up my under-seat space for a 'cuddle chair', where will my life vest go?

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

#FoodBankNYCChallenge via Gwyneth Palrow's shopping bag

The Internet is a buzz with talks of Gwyneth Paltrow's newest idea to show the masses what life is really like for the average American.  Of course she's never been and never will be an average anything, but that's besides the point.  Paltrow has been dared by celebrity chef Mario Batali to survive on $29 a week, which is how much people living on food stamps have to spend.

This was her first Instagram/Tweet of the #FoodBankNYCChallenge:

This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week.

Yikes.  Doesn't look like a lot of food there.  Also why all the limes?  What kind of working mother can survive on kale and eggs?  In fact, lifestyle writer Rebecca Vipond Brink, took Paltrow's grocery bag apart and did the math.  She worked out that with the items pictured, Paltrow would be consuming fewer than 1000 calories a day.  Maybe that's how she stays so thin?  Calories aside, her bag is chock full of vitamins for sure, but if you're in need of food stamps, chances are you're not just sitting on the couch all day, you're going to need calories to burn!

What's really missing from Paltrow's whole concept is the fact she isn't average and may not realize what an average American woman looks like.  According to the CDC, the average American woman is around 5'4'', weighing 166 pounds, which means she'd burn around 2400 calories a day, even if she was only moderately active. If she worked a sedimentary job, she'd still be burning an average of 1400 a day.  Now I'm no mathematician but the numbers just don't add up.

Currently there are about 46 million Americans living on SNAP.  That's the whole point of the Food Bank Challenge.  Congress has recently cut SNAP benefits, which for that 6.8% of Americans is going to be a big effing deal.  But that's not even half the issue, the bigger issue here is the concept of a food desert.  Around 23.5 million Americans are living in areas where they don't have access to a grocery store that sells anything like what's in Paltrow's bag.  They're forced to shop at corner stores or fast food joints, that are easily accessible.  Which means they're eating burgers, sodas, highly processed foods, which lets face it is the root of our obesity problem.

So we're outraged that Paltrow's bag contains kale, way too many limes and fresh jalapenos, not because that's not what normal people eat, but because that's not what majority of the people living on SNAP actually have access to.  PB&J, Ramen, frozen chicken, frozen everything, these are the things America is eating. Paltrow's bag is healthy for a detox and sure, she'll be able to live on those items for a week, but the thing is we won't.  And one can only hope that once the week is over she'll be able to tell her story openly.  If her 1,000 a day leaves her feeling hungry, we can only hope she'll tell us about those hunger pains.  Or maybe she'll just brag about loosing a couple pounds.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

A Flashback to the Szechenyi Baths

Budapest isn't called the city of baths for nothing.  Actually I'm getting ahead of myself, when I agreed to go to Budapest in November of 2007, all I could think was ironic it was I'd be in Hungary during Thanksgiving. I didn't know much about the city, only the promise of a capitol city, the center of political and cultural movements.  Perhaps that's the type of traveler I am.  I like surprise.  Rather than bury myself in a tour guide weeks prior, I simply go, see, do, and eat, experience whatever the adventure throws at me.

Budapest didn't just throw it's prized possessions at me, it hurled a frenzy of beauty, in a series of baths, meals, all whilst Fiest's Mushaboom played in the background.  We wandered through the snow dusted on bicycle, meandering through it's breath taking architecture of old castles and modern stainless steel and glass towers.  Everything was alive, vibrant, and ready to be consumed.

Courtesy of Baths
By the third day we had shopped at the local markets, drank our weight in local wine and even helped pick out the perfect cow hide rug for our gracious hostess.  With Thanksgiving leftovers in our bellies we decided today would be about relaxing; today would be about the baths.

The Szechenyi Baths is the largest medicinal bath in Europe, offering refreshing healing heated waters to both tourists and locals alike.  Established in 1881, the baths quickly grew in size and popularity.  Currently, there are 18 pools, 15 of which are spring fed.  I put on an orange and white floral bikini and dipped myself into the largest outdoor pool as the sunset.  Old men sat around the edges submerged chest-deep in the steaming waters, while playing chess.  We darted in and out of the fountains in the outdoor pool, forgetting the November chill.

Courtesy of Baths
Inside still, the baths take on different shapes and colors, as a smell of sulfer chloride wafts through the rooms.  The pools are rich in calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulfate, with fluoride and metabolic acid.  (Talk about a mouthful) And are said to cure any type of joint pain, including arthritis, and orthopedic injuries. The water temperature changes drastically from room to room, ranging from 110°F down to 70°F.  We jumped from hot to cold, in and out of the showers to cool down and refresh.
Personally I couldn't tell you whether it was the baths, the excitement of a new city, or the home cooked Thanksgiving meal in my belly that seemed to fix all of the world's problems.  But there we were; Happily heated.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Kaya Toast & Kopi Please

As an avid breakfast lover, I'm constantly searching for ways to make breakfast the ultimate dining experience (even if it's for dinner).  And while the Cornetto in Italy did wonders for my waist line and London's English Breakfast could cure any hangover, there was one place whose idea of breakfast all comes down to a single pour; Singapore.

It's no secret that when it comes to breakfast, Singaporeans tend to choose the savory route.  Bring on the buns, oodles of noodles, and pork chops!  But it's the simple sweetness of a plate of Kaya Toast and Kopi Tiam that I remember most.  Kaya is something like a jam, made from coconut milk, eggs and sugar.  The name itself means rich in Malay, which says all anyone needs to know.  This is the stuff of kings.  The dish is best paired with none other than a cup of coffee, known to locals as Kopi. Kopi means coffee, Tiam means shop, put them both together and you've got heaven. But it isn't just coffee.

Actually if you order a "coffee" in Singapore or Malaysia, you're guaranteed to be handed a cup of that awful nestle instant crap.  But Kopi is different.  It's typically made with high-caffeine robusta beans, not the arabica that we find in 99% of western coffee brews.  And in Singapore, the beans are roasted with butter, margarine, and sometimes even lard.  MmmmMmm add butter to anything and it's 1000X better right?

Once the beans are ground (usually on site), the grinds are brewed in what looks like a "sock", a small cloth sack.  The brew is then "poured" from pot to pot, strained to sheer perfection.  Seriously, I could watch these guys pour that liquid gold all day.  

The final step?  Well "cream and sugar" of course!  And by that I mean someone hand me a can opener, here comes the condensed milk (no sugar needed).  And just like at Starbucks, you can customize your cup with these useful terms:
  • Kopi: The default cup of kopi is made with sweetened condensed milk (no sugar needed). Fresh milk wasn't available early on in the country's history, so Singaporeans made do with canned. Now, even though the country imports everything from rice to geoduck, the taste for canned dairy remains.
  • Kopi C: With unsweetened evaporated milk and sugar. A little less sweet, creamy, and caramel-like than standard kopi, perhaps more balanced for Western tastes and those without a sweet tooth.
  • Kopi C Kosong: With evaporated milk, no sugar.
  • Kopi O: No milk, with sugar.
  • Kopi O Kosong: No milk, no sugar.
Now sit back and relax, let the Kopi take hold of you and dip into your Kaya Toast.  Heavenly.
© The Traveling Barnacle

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Thrifty Tourism

Recently San Diego Reporter, locally known as 'Consumer Bob', took to the air to discuss something very near and dear to my heart; Thrift shopping.  But it wasn't just any thrift shopping that Bob was chit chatting about.

Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite accessories.  It's a silk scarf, vintage from around the 1940's.   The white isn't so vibrant anymore, but the black tassels at the end make every blemish better.  Not to mention it's covered in cows.  But my favorite thing about the piece?  Where I got it.  It was my birthday weekend last year.  My friend took me to Santa Barbara for the weekend, and while we walked hand in hand after one too many Jameson's at none other than The James Joyce, we stumbled into Antique Alley.

The smell of "old" rushed into us, as we meandered through the shelves of items.  Statues, fur boas, old top hats, glitz and glam of the past, combined with vintage Playboys in piles along the hallways.   The store embodied Santa Barbara.  A wealthy college town, built up for it's incoming students, a past close enough to Hollywood but far enough away for privacy.  Every item screamed California in a way that made me feel like grabbing a surf board, jumping into a woody all whilst rockin' an itsy bitsy polka dot bikini.  The perfect and ultimate in thrift shopping.  Every item had a story up for grabs.

He found the scarf.

I must admit I don't wear it as often as I want to.  But it's still one of my favorites.  Maybe because he picked it out, maybe because it's fringe holds more than just a fashion statement; It holds a memory of a new city, too much whiskey and another year gone by.

San Diego Thrift Store find!
Of course the scarf isn't my only Thrift store purchase made while traveling.  I've got a garnet ring said to cure depression from Prague, a sequined dress meant solely for a New Year's eve occasion from New York City, and a hand tooled leather belt from London.  Each item reflects the city in a way that no tour book, travel guide or photograph will tell you.  The items belonged to someone who lived in it, someone who embodied the city.

I often thrift here in San Diego.  In fact the Salvation Army downtown had such great sales it's hard not to go on a bi-monthly basis.  You won't find furs or leather goods here, but those high waisted shorts your mom used to wear in the 70s and 80s?  And lets not even get started on the whole festival-boho look. You'll find them by the hundreds.

In fact, if you're interested in fashion finds in San Diego's thrift stores check out the Sunday Girl Finds. Run by blogger and fashionista Sonja, she thrifts through the racks so you don't have to!  You can purchase any of her finds here.
all photos courtesy of The Sunday Girl Finds

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Monday, April 06, 2015

It's OK to Ask for Help.

Via Huffington Post

© The Traveling Barnacle

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Starbucks Spending Solved!

Here in San Diego, we welcomed the county's first Dunkin Donuts last year.  Sadly, I have yet to brave the lines to grab myself a beloved and missed iced coffee.  Instead there are various options around to grab my caffeine fix;  7 Eleven, overpriced coffee carts, and Starbucks.    If you've ever had coffee from 7-Eleven then you know it doesn't leave you screaming 'oh thank heaven', in fact it leaves you the exact opposite while looking for a bathroom as the nausea sets in.  And the gourmet coffee carts that sell things like "creamy heaven in a cup" do just that, the $6 it costs you for that extra dirty chai espresso, ends up doing more hurt than good.  So we settle for Starbucks.  We've all been there, we know what we like, and having a location on every other street corner of the first world doesn't hurt either.   But those Caramel Macchiatos add up and my caffeine habit ends up being my biggest weekly cost.  So what's a girl to do?

1.  Get the App.

Seriously it's a coffee lovers best friend.  Not only can you pay on your phone (oh so dangerous) but you earn rewards while doing it.  Need to use the wifi for a while but you've finished your coffee three pages ago?  Not a problem.  App members get free refills, yes FREE (they're normally only 50 cents to refill a regular coffee or tea).  And there are a ton of other benefits, like right now I get $1 off any espresso, and on Mondays between 2-5 p.m. I can grab myself an afternoon snack free with a purchase of the coffee I always end up getting around my 2:30 slump anyways.

2. Look at the Menu again.

There are two Barista's at my local Starbucks that know me better than my closest friends.  They know when I've missed a couple hours of sleep and worry when they don't see me before 11 a.m.  For a while I would go in and Alex or Roccio would merely pour me whatever my 'regular' order had been for the last month.  Sometimes they'd recommend changing it up, adding an extra shot to cure the bags under my eyes, or a pinch of chocolate because lets face it, they're totally in tune with my cycle, but for a long time, it was always the same thing.  So I started taking the time and really looking at the menu.  Turns out it changes quite a bit from week to week, which made me realize Starbucks has a pretty decent selection of coffee for under $4.  And if you order off-menu you can stay within the $3 mark!  Seriously.  For example:

Minty Hot chocolate. $2.80
Basically steamed milk, vanilla and mocha flavored syrup = hot chocolate.  But why not feel like it's Christmas everyday and add a shot of peppermint syrup!  Genius!  (and cheap!)  And if you don't like peppermint, then why not toffee nut, caramel, or for you adventurous drinkers, raspberry.

Raspberry Passion Tea Lemonade. $2.55
This definitely isn't my cup of tea (pun intended) but this basic mix of iced tea, lemonade and raspberry syrup will do wonders for your daily Starbucks spending.

Vanilla Bean Frappuccino. $2.95
Cuz lets face it, Frappuccinos don't actually count as coffee.  Vanilla Bean is sweet and simple and if you're feeling like Mr. Big Spender you can add chocolate chips or a shot of flavoring for an extra 50 cents.

Iced Coffee. $1.95
OMG!  Remember basic iced coffee?  Yeah me neither.  So while you're over thinking your order just remember sometimes basic is better (and cheaper!)

3. Instead of a Latte, try the new cafe misto.

I know, I know, I'm starting to sound like Starbucks paid this Dunkin' girl to post all about their new menu, but they haven't.  Seriously, the misto is delicious half the price and made with half the amount of coffee and milk (which means half the calories right?)

4. $2 Iced Lattes Exist!  Sort of...

Instead of ordering that iced Latte, order this "triple espresso over ice in a venti cup" and just add milk!

5. Bring your own mug.

It saves 10 cents, but face it, two cups a day, Monday-Friday, and you've saved yourself a dollar.  It all adds up baby.  Oh and get this... if you still want to save the 10 cents but didn't bring your mug with you, you can come in with a competitors paper cup, Starbucks will still give you the discount for helping to save the planet.

6. Order in Bulk.

Having a meeting in a Starbucks?  Or maybe you're hosting an interview.  You can order a coffee press for the group if you're drinking-in, which ends up being a lot cheaper than individual cups.

7. Only need a little fix? Go short!

Forget the tall, there is actually a smaller size and it's called a short. I know, mind blown.

8. Bring your dog and get free whipped cream.

I know you re-read that. And yes, it's totally true.  Starbucks gives free cups of whipped cream to man's best friend and get this, they're called "Puppiccinos". Swoon!  Of course your Barista isn't going to know you kept the cream for the top of your drink instead of giving it to fido.

9. Order a Venti and an empty tall cup.

It's called sharing people!  Are you trying to suck up to the boss? Or maybe it's that super hot receptionist on the third floor.  Order a Venti Frap or whatever else and ask for an empty tall cup.  Split two ways and ta-dah!

10. Eat before you go.

It's like going to the grocery store hungry, it's never a good idea.  Especially now that they've got all those amazing snack packs.

© The Traveling Barnacle

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