Guatemala: Sleepless in Santa Elena

Ask my five-year-old daughter what she had for dinner during our stay and she will answer with resigned acceptance, beans. And what did you have for breakfast? More beans (sigh). She will only say the word out of the corner of her mouth, as if articulating it properly would give someone the opportunity to stuff more beans in.

Zhytomyr: The Schnapps and Soviet-Style Architectural Capital of North-Central Ukraine

I studied the shot of clear liquor in front of me. It had a sharp fragrance that I couldn’t place, and no one at the table knew the English word for it. Our hostess made the first toast, and I downed 2 ounces of what turned out to be horseradish schnapps. Looking at the bottom of my shot glass I thought, it can’t possibly get any more Ukrainian than this.

It Takes a (Ukrainian) Village

There was something off about the style of the leather jackets the two men were wearing. At first I thought they were holdovers from the 1980’s, but that wasn’t quite right. They looked more like a reverse engineering effort where someone had described the 1980s to a designer who hadn’t lived through them, and those jackets were the result.

If You Can’t Go There, Bring There Here

As much as we might want to, there are some patches of real estate on the planet we are simply not going to be able to visit. As a second-best alternative, our family hosts international visitors to Chicago several times a year.

Breakfast: The Mauritian Chronicles

American soft power, that ability to achieve diplomatic objectives without threat or coercion, stems from many sources: aid packages, student exchanges, Katy Perry songs. I would like to make the case that the US State Department should add pancakes to the list.

Touring an Indian Grocery Store in Chicago

…I wanted to let Susan know she didn’t need to spend any time on the basics, so I name-dropped my subscription to Cook’s Illustrated, an intense, no-frills cooking magazine that uses the phrase “molecular structure” at least once per issue. She got it, and volleyed back, mentioning the name of the magazine’s editor. Having finished taking measure of one another, we began the tour…

A Net Made of Rocks, and Other Guatemalan Surprises

…I hated taking the kids out for a break – I had to assume that any real estate beyond the moat of garbage had already served as someone else’s receptacle. Exacerbating the problem was that our two younger children did not yet have a healthy fear of infectious disease – they still wanted to touch anything and everything. Trying to get at the problem from the other end, I became reluctant to let the kids eat or drink…

The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Mile 22 of the Indianapolis Marathon was not where I expected to have my first extra-marital tryst. Looking back though, I should have seen it coming – dangerous, illicit love was in the air. And as is probably often the case, it started with the Megabus ride from Chicago to Indianapolis.

White-water Kayaking with a Cautious Guide

We walked downriver along the shore to scout the upcoming rapid. Our guide was briefing us on what we should prepare for, what to do if we needed to perform an emergency wet-exit, and letting us know that it would be perfectly acceptable to opt out if we didn’t feel comfortable. At the very least, she said ominously, we would have to run it one at a time, because she wouldn’t be able to rescue both of us at once.

The San Francisco Marathon

I looked closer: all the jackets were adorned with a collection of Harley Davidson patches. Really? They hired a motorcycle gang for security duties? Are the race organizers not familiar with the fable of the Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert? The moral of the story: do not get a motorcycle gang to be responsible for security at your event. Perhaps the organizers calculated that everyone in attendance is a marathoner and, in case of trouble, can just run away?