Staycation? Um, I’ll Pass

by Catherine Breese

Radford Staycation-0016When the economy tanked a few years back, some optimist dreamed up the “staycation”–a break from work in which you stayed in your hometown and enjoyed all it has to offer in lieu of traveling. Over the past Memorial Day Weekend we decided to try our hand at the staycation. A real vacation requires saving, planning, and preparation. A staycation requires little, other than willpower. Rules we followed: 1. try something new, 2. no leaving town, not even to the next town over, and 3. have vacation-like fun. Pretty simple really.

Memorial Day Celebration RadfordLet me confess that I am convinced that the staycation is a flawed concept. Only a fool believes that you can have the same kind of fun and relaxation at home that you can someplace else. Remember sleepovers when you were a kid? It was far more fun to go to someone else’s house, eat someone else’s food, and be yelled at by someone else’s mom than it was your own. Plus, when you travel, you get to put aside your daily agitations. Nobody organizes closets or scours the kitchen sink on vacation. On a staycation you have to pretend that normal household chores do not exist. And you have to act like mediocre food at mid-priced restaurants in your own town is somehow as fun and delicious as mediocre food at a different mid-priced restaurant at, say, the beach. It’s not.

Catherine and Jack 1The vacation-simulation-like highlights of the weekend included antiquing, bike riding, kayaking, a formal dinner, an uninspiring meal out, and a failed museum tour (The Glencoe Museum was closed–yes, closed, on a holiday weekend. Picture of the exterior is below). The highlight of the weekend was “fancy Sunday” in which we put on our best clothes and ate upscale food (lobster bisque, caviar, etc.) from our antique china in our very own back yard.


Fancy SundayHere’s the breakdown, as I see it.

Pros of the staycation:

● don’t have to worry about bedbugs or the unhygienic practices of other travelers

● no long car ride; no unpleasantries with NSA-trained airport security people

● don’t have to unpack your suitcase when you return

● much lower cost (unless you go wild at the mall or on

● don’t have to worry about forgetting your toothbrush or losing something valuable

all the comforts of home

House FinalCons:

● no pool

● no room service or cleaning service

● hometown rather disappointingly boring–some shops in Radford, Virginia, actually closed on Memorial Day weekend. I am reminded of a few John Denver lyrics that go “Saturday night in Toledo, Ohio… well I spent a week there, one day. They roll up the sidewalks precisely at 10, and the people who live there are not seen again.”[i]

● nothing to brag about when you return to work

Winner? Vacation—by a mile. Hey, don’t get me wrong. It was a fun weekend. But it lacked the sparkle and excitement of going someplace new. Yes, the bathrooms were cleaner and the cocktails were much cheaper (and properly mixed), but the sense of adventure just wasn’t there. Vacations are worth saving for. Staycations are for people that have to take them.

[i] Oh, don’t even try to make fun of me because I know some John Denver lyrics. Everyone knows “Country Roads” and I’ll bet a buck you can sing the first line to “Annie’s Song” as well.

A Sharp Roadside Attraction: The Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum

By Bryan Ward

000bryanAs I have written before, pencils are very important to me (American Pencil Tragedy). Judge me if you will, but they are the most humble and democratic of writing utensils. While I know there some who share my appreciation of the pencil, there are also many who say, “So what?” For those who harbor such apathy, I add them to my list of despicable types who deserve ridicule and derision in a blog post, like those people—and I mean “those people” in the worst possible way—who skip line, litter along our highways, pee on public toilet seats, and drive slow in the passing lane. I don’t expect everyone to understand or harbor the same fervor for the pencil that I do, but it does my heart good when I learn of someone who shares my pencil passion.

000Welcome CenterIt was a monumental day when I discovered the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, Ohio. Dubbed the world’s only and largest, the pencil sharpener museum’s collection includes over 3,400 pencil sharpeners. Johnson began collecting  in 1988, when his wife Charlotte bought him three metal pencil sharpeners as a gift for Christmas. From that point until his death in 2010, Johnson built his collection and began sharing it with the public. Today, the museum is located on the grounds of the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center at 13178 State Route 664 South, in Logan, Ohio. The Hocking Hill Regional Welcome Center is a board and batten clad construction with a working water mill on the side. The nod to a quaint pastoral history speaks volumes about the intent of the local tourism efforts. The restrooms were clean and well-kept which is a lesson to other states who take the tourist’s toilet-related comfort with less seriousness. I am looking at you Indiana, directly at you!

000museumThe Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum is situated across a patio from the welcome center’s front door. The building is a small shed-like structure with a pencil on the front. Inside, shelves of the display cases completely wrap the interior. I was not sure what I expected of a pencil sharpener museum, but it was gasp-inducing. As each visitor entered the museum, the experience was weirdly similar: “Wow! Look at those pencil sharpeners!” 000sharp7The collection included the classic teacher’s desk crank models and an unimaginable plethora of pencil sharpeners inside of cartoon characters, cars, planes, trains, animals, musical instruments, historical figures, buildings, and even religious icons. Both in sheer number and variety, the shelves of sharpeners transfix visitors. After a few minutes of looking, someone in each group comes to the same realization that I had, which is that pretty much everything has been made into a pencil sharpener. It’s a bizarrely practical aspect to our unique human desire to make trinkets of tin, aluminum, and plastic.

000sharp8Any first-rate roadside attraction should leave its visitors with a few nagging questions. As I headed down the road, I wished that I could talk to the Reverend Paul Johnson. As a collector of almost nothing, I wanted to learn why pencil sharpeners so struck his fancy. And what were his thoughts on the current state of the American-made pencil? Unfortunately, those questions must remain unanswered. His collection, however, will continue to provide enjoyment to those who visit central Ohio. His advice will also endure as long as the faded dot matrix banner that is a fixed to the wall of the museum continues to hang. The sign reads, “Keep Sharp . . . Be Sharp . . . Act Sharp . . . Stay Sharp . . . Look Sharp.” I cannot conceive of any greater rules for living.000revpaul


Alta Blue Skies Guide to Summer Fashion: Put Some Clothes On!

by Catherine Breese

sand sculptured peopleMoney is not speech. I don’t care what the people with a whole lot of it say. However, what one buys with his/her money can be.

Take, for example, what we wear. It is an outward message to the world about who we are. Thus, there’s something I’d like to say to a few people I’ve seen in public lately: shhhhhhhhh!

Spring is the original season of the fashion faux pas. It is the beginning, the new, the bright shiny opportunity to take off winter sweaters and put on something terrifyingly skimpy or much too tight. It is the chance to show off all those mid-winter gym workouts you’ve been doing, or the lack thereof.

Yesterday I spotted an older gentleman walking to the grocery store in cutoff jean shorts and a cowboy hat, and that is all. I know he was older because of his leathery skin and white chest and back hair. His t-shirt was hanging from his back pocket. Presumably, he needed it in order to get into the store. What is his message to the world? His outfit says, “In my head it is 1972 and I am super-hot. My Camaro is in the shop.” Now, I admit that I did own a pair of faded Levi cut-off shorts. I wore them when I was 15 years old at the lake. I thought they were sexy, but I never wore them in public. They made my mother’s eyes roll backwards into her head.

Last week we were in a local bar/restaurant on trivia night. One young man with a dirty tan and lots of tattoos wore a shirt that was ripped to the waist on both sides and missing its sleeves. Fellas, that is not a shirt. It is a rag, suitable for dusting your home or perhaps cleaning a toilet. It should not be worn as public outerwear. This look is a fashion choice that says, “Hey, I really need a shirt. Please take me to Goodwill.” Show off your tattoos if you must, but if you see them as art, let’s try putting a nicer frame on the picture.

slutty manniquinsHigh school students, especially girls, are notorious for under-dressing. The boys, inexplicably, are under the impression that wife-beaters and other men’s tank tops are attractive. They are not, on anyone. To me, they just look like my grandfather’s underwear. And the girls, who are quite well-endowed these days, seem to be dressed for a SoBe nightclub or maybe a mammogram, rather than World History class. They really put it all in the shop window. I actually feel sympathy for the male teachers who must train their eyes to wander off to the Periodic Table of Elements hanging on the wall. Then there’s the booty shorts/cowboy boot combo. Who can we blame for this fashion fiasco? What is the message? It is supposed to be “I am a hot country girl,” I think. What does it really say? “I don’t know if I should dance on a pole or muck out the barn.” I forgive girls and boys for their inexperience at tasteful dress, but that doesn’t make it less icky.

OMG who would wear thisThe fashion industry can be blamed for at least some of this mess. Take a look around your local shopping mall. Call me silly, but I really don’t want to see the average American girl wearing what is hanging off of the size 2 mannequins. It is time to say no. We can’t go on telling girls that it is the content of their character that counts while simultaneously telling them to dress for a career in prostitution.

So, here are the official Alta Blue Skies summer dressing rules: 1. do not wear your bathing suit anywhere except the beach, lake, or the pool. If you are actually at the beach, it is permissible to wear a cover-up over your suit to run out for ice and beer. Men, put a shirt on. 2. Do not expose any skin that you, yourself, do not want to look at. Use the mirror, people. 3. Just because it comes in your size, do not assume that it will be flattering. 4. If your daughter is wearing a bikini, you should NOT be. 5. Surf-shops are for surfers. Stay away if you’re not one. 6. And finally, when in public, more is more. You can’t send a message with your clothes unless you’re wearing some.

Hey, I know it’s summer, but let’s all put some clothes back on, mmmmmkay?

Everything I Know I Learned on YouTube

by Catherine Breese

haircutYouTube is not yet 10 years old, but no one can deny its bandwidth-hogging ascendance. One kabillion people a day watch a video on YouTube, mostly at work when they should be doing something else, and mostly involving cats being cute or men being hit in the groin. Surprisingly, however, I am here to tout its usefulness, if not its entertainment value.

Despite its dopey name and marginal reputation…there is actually a ginormous heap of educational content available on YouTube. Ranging from the practical to the scientific and even the theoretical, YouTube is one-stop shopping for basic information. There is much, in fact, that could be quite useful to educators, but the website is blocked, for the most part, from students in the American public school systems. Until recently, in many places even teachers were blocked from YouTube. Some school systems are more open-minded, but most still believe that YouTube is the Internet equivalent of the fire-swamp in The Princess Bride, full of hidden shooting spikes of fire, lightning sand, and rodents of unusual size. Yes, we all know that the Internet is the perfect vehicle for the effective delivery of pornography and other depravity. However, it is the equally ideal tool for delivery of human knowledge, noble causes, and “sweetness and light.” YouTube is like a Pneumatic nailer–we can either be afraid of the damage the tool can do, or use it for the purposes of constructing a well-built house.

Youtube2Don’t believe me? take a look…the Mongols, the law of gravity, the role phytoplasmas in plants, the history of Art Nouveau, John Donne, Tao Te Ching, etc. YouTube hosts several channels entirely devoted to cerebral enhancement such as YouTube EDU, TED, and Khan Academy. If you want to learn, YouTube is a smorgasbord. It is not the Library of Congress or anything, but really, given the fact that it is entirely free of charge, I daresay it may be a point of pride for humankind.

There is much there that is practical as well. In the wonderful world of “how to” videos, you can find out how to play a particular song on the guitar, how to straighten your hair, how to read Chaucer in Middle English, how to wipe the content from your old cell phone, how to cut men’s hair, how to cut an avocado, and even how to cut out the parts of a video from YouTube that you don’t want. If you want to quickly learn how to do something, I can only highly recommend YouTube as your very first stop.

Case in point: a few months back, homeless and jobless, Bryan got a phone call for a job interview. It was good news, but he needed to jump in the car and make an 8-hour drive the very next day. He also needed a haircut and the nearest barbershop was 35 miles away. His brilliant solution–I should become his barber. So, I sat down and watched 4 or 5 videos exploring how to cut men’s hair with a clipper. I was nervous, but necessity called the tune. The haircut came out great and he got the job. Another YouTube success story.

This experience brought me to wonder, though, why do people make these videos? Maybe some of them have a financial interest. (YouTube makes its money mostly from advertising but YouTube fame can bring other advantages and offers.) Then, there are a lot of narcissists. Remember that kid in elementary school who jumped in front of every camera grinning, drooling, and aping for his picture to be taken? Well, that grown-up kid and all his fellow narcissists have found their Motherland in YouTube. Want to be the star of your own life in 16:9 aspect ratio? Turn on the camera and let it roll. The resulting hours and hours of idiocracy are mind-boggling. But the good news is, of course, no one has to watch any of it.

Still, there has got to be some human goodness behind the thousands of “how to” videos uploaded. It is the friendly sharing of knowledge, the polite let-me-show-you-how. People who, for whatever reason, deeply care about a subject and want to share a little of their enthusiasm with the world. Regular people, most of them at home in their kitchens or basements, who talk the viewer through the process of doing something useful. It’s comforting, almost, to know that people like these exist.

To close, here’s a gem I discovered last week. If you are like me, you will find it to be quite enlightening and not at all terrifying. The Terrifying Truth about Bananas Enjoy!

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