Sunday, July 16, 2017

Heading home - Alrica

Sitting on a bus listening to Colombian music on the way to Cartagena airport for our final trip home. Our plan had been eleven countries on four continents. We ended at 28 countries on six continents. Life happens. My dream has always been to see the world and I have done that, but I hope it doesn’t ever truly stop.

Lots of people asked us before we left why we didn’t wait until the kids were out of the house. I can emphatically say that traveling with kids enhanced our travels immeasurably. I try to be self-aware but it is always easier to see change in someone else and the children we are coming home with are different people. People who are more culturally aware, gastronomically adventurous, linguistically capable, and just independent. Two years of homeschooling on our travels broadened their education in a way that could never have happened from the US. And I can confidently say that they are ready to return to the classroom with no deficits.

And what about the adults in the family? Well, it is scary to step out of your life for a couple years. We sold almost everything we owned, gave up our daily jobs, and hit the road. There, we discovered a confidence that we didn’t know we had. We have made friends all over the world and confirmed our suspicion that there are good people everywhere. Our journey has been full of moments of great joy and intense frustration. We learned about what questions to ask, how people live, how to roll with unexpected situations, how to manage change, and to appreciate the little things in life.

So what are we coming back to? Carver was accepted into a program called the Davidson Academy in Reno, NV so we are moving there. It will allow him to learn at the accelerated pace that he needs while being with kids his own age. Syarra will be attending a full-time gifted school that seems to truly understand the importance of challenging kids while being flexible enough to support their needs. We hope that being with kids their own ages will allow them to make lifelong friends. And Erich and I are looking for jobs, hopefully ones that will allow us to continue to travel when time allows. All of us will continue to enjoy telling our stories and sharing our perspective.

It is with mixed feelings that we return to the States. The politics aren’t what we prefer and what we left behind and we worry that we will feel stagnant. However, we look forward to getting to buy the big bottle of ketchup without knowing that we will have to throw it out when we move on in a few weeks. The US has a level of convenience that is uncommon in this world and will probably be easy to slip back in to. We are looking forward to settling in a part of the country that is new to us and we plan to take full advantage of this different adventure. Our door is always open to any of our friends, family, and readers.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Street-side and Seaside – Erich

Barranquilla is near the northern tip of Colombia. It's on the Magdalena River and nearly at the Caribbean Sea. It is tropical, hot, laid back, and has plenty of idiosyncrasies. (Of course, I would know nothing about having plenty of idiosyncrasies.)

Take street-side parking as an example. Now, I have seen plenty of signs that tell drivers where they are allowed to park or at times what they are allowed to park. But have you ever seen a place you are allowed to park your elephant?
It's hard to find a space to fit an oversized vehicle
I didn't actually see an elephant parked, but did find this guy.
Parked in the shade so he won't overheat
Don't worry. He wasn't in a designated elephant zone.

The fauna is not the only interesting thing here. The flora can be downright unusual and spectacular too.
Half cactus, half tree
While we were in Barranquilla we caught some public transportation. It was neither horse nor elephant, but actually a bus. And we visited a part of town called Las Flores. It was fascinating as there was a canal of sorts running right through the middle of the neighborhood. At places along it, people had laid out planks to cross it.

Here we enjoyed some amazing seafood. Being situated on the Caribbean and none too far from the Pacific has its advantages.

We enjoyed anillos de calamar (calamari rings), casuela de mariscos (seafood "casserole" but it looks more like a chowder than what we would consider a casserole), and tipicos de la casa (the special of the house.) If you enjoy seafood, you would love it. If you don't enjoy seafood, we totally ordered the wrong things.
Anillos de calamar
Casuela de mariscos
Tipicos de la casa
And just to end on a weird note, check out the decorations on this house. A spigot? Strange. But maybe in big rainstorms, they turn it on and drain the roof!
When it rains, does it pour?
I know, it's practically like a hydrant, right?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It's Not What You Say, It's Knowing How They Say It – Erich

During this journey around the world, we have taken a few opportunities to see some movies. And today we did so again.

I have commented before about the experience of seeing a film in another country, particularly one which is not English speaking. And seeing a movie in Colombia does not disappoint.

First, it was a great movie. We saw La Mujer Maravilla AKA Wonder Woman. And there was a lot of wonder. But I'm not attempting to be a movie critic. I want to talk about what it is to see a movie in Colombia.

First, when you go to see an American or other non-Spanish language film in Colombia, you must check which version of the movie you want to see. I don't mean 2D vs. 3D, though we did have that choice as well. I mean subtitulado vs. doblado.

Subtitulado means subtitled. The movie has the original soundtrack with the original actors. And there are subtitles in Spanish on the bottom of the screen. Doblado means dubbed. So a new voice track has been made by Spanish speaking actors speaking, unsurprisingly, in Spanish. We had choices. We could see the 2D movie with subtitles or the 3D movie with dubbing. That was an easy choice. First, we don't love 3D. Second, we don't understand Spanish well enough to listen to the movie in Spanish and follow along.

But I do know enough Spanish to really enjoy the subtitles. And it made me appreciate how much of language is not simply the words, but the idioms we use. I will give a few examples without any spoilers for the movie.

At one point a character is in training and is told to do the exercise again. In English the word used was "Again." But the subtitles read "De nuevo." Literally that would be "of new." They did not use "además" which would be a direct translation of again. Though perhaps a closer translation would be "furthermore." But I'm sure to the Spanish speaking audience "de nuevo" must have made perfect sense. It must be their way of saying do something again.

At several points in the film characters would say "come on." Now we all know exactly how to interpret that. There is no question as to why we use the preposition on in our minds. Or on our minds. One time I saw "come on" translated as "ven conmigo" or come with me. But most of the rest of the time it was translated as "vamos" or we go.

Why is it usually vamos but one time it wasn't? I don't know. I don't know enough about idiomatic Spanish to understand the contextual difference between the two situations.

Another huge difference is one of pronouns. We love our pronouns in English. We use them all the time. In Spanish, they seem to have a very different relationship with them. Sure, they use pronouns, but not nearly as often. As an example, if I want to say "I know" in English, I have to use the pronoun. If I just say "Know" it doesn't make sense. I mean maybe I am giving you a command to suddenly gain an awareness you were heretofore lacking. But aside from commands, we use pronouns.

As a challenge, I am going to attempt to write the next two paragraphs with no pronouns. (It's actually a test of how well I know what is and is not a pronoun, I suppose.)

In Spanish every verb is conjugated depending on the subject. So a speaker can just say "sé" a word pronounced as "say". And that would mean "I know." (The use of a pronoun was required in the previous instance, but as the pronoun was in quotes the writer feels justified that the writer has not failed the aforementioned pronoun prohibition.) Except Spanish speakers don't just say "sé", or at least the subtitlers didn't in the movie.

At one point important character was telling authoritarian character that important character just had to do a particular action. (Not specifying what the "particular action" is.) And in English the authoritarian character replied, "I know." (Again in quotes.) But the subtitles read "Lo sé." Literally the words means "I know it." So the translation did include a pronoun. But Spanish speakers include the pronoun of the object, which English speakers skip, and English speakers include the pronoun of the subject, which Spanish speakers skip.

Thank goodness I am through two paragraphs. That is hard to do!

Another instance was one of specificity. Let's say there was a bad guy called Bubba in the movie. (By the way, there wasn't, I just don't want to spoil anything. Though I suppose if you go see the movie now and you're just waiting for Bubba to appear, and then he never does, that might spoil it too.) Anyway, there were points where a character would say "It's him." But the subtitles read "Es Bubba." So they specified Bubba instead of using him. (Except it wasn't Bubba. Don't build up the false expectation, okay?)

My point is this: Learning a language is a lot more than learning the vocabulary and grammar. Because even when you know those, you will never say the things that natives would say. I would never think to say "de nuevo" instead of "además."

And English is full of idiomatic ways to say things. From our inconsistent use of pronouns (do I give up or do I give in?) through our poorly placed prefixes (inflammable means the same as flammable, really? And nonplussed is the opposite of what?) to our phrasal verbs (if you stop and think about it what does vomit have to do with throwing up? Your arm is not involved, and while it likely goes up your esophagus, it generally goes down soon thereafter.)

English is the most global language there is at present. And we native English speakers must be far more patient with those who learn it as a second or third or later language. Because even when you learn the words, the pronunciation, and the grammar, it isn't always what you say that gives your words meaning. It's how we expect to hear it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

No Exito – Erich

There is this story my mother sometimes tells about me as a little boy. I'm talking a toddler. So, at that age I was an avid fan of Sesame Street. And it had its various segments in which they taught you words with little songs and clips.

Well, one day my mother had me with her at a store. I don't recall if it was a grocery store or clothing store or something else. But the type of store is not germane to the story. While we were there I apparently dazzled some of the other women who were shopping because I saw one of the lit exit signs. Recalling my excellent Sesame based education system I pointed to the sign and said, "Exit, mommy. That says exit. It's the way, way, way, way out."

In Colombia, one of the big grocery store chains is called Exito. They are recognizable by the branding color of yellow. Each has a big yellow wall on the outside of the building with Exito written in black letters.

Of course, you might be afraid that seeing Exito in big letters, no one would be willing to enter. After all, the exit is the way, way, way, way out. Right?

Wrong. Because the Spanish word "exito" does not mean "exit." It means "success". And who wouldn't want to step into success.

It's a good thing too, because if you couldn't step into the Exito, not only would the store go out of business, not only would you likely starve, but you would miss amazing items for sale. Like this yard of cookies. Yes, you heard that right. It's a yard. It has an actual yardstick on the package.
A full 36 inches
Of course, the funny thing is that I never saw these European cookies in Europe. Only here in Colombia where almost no one speaks English did I see this well labeled in English box of cookies.

And no, we did not buy them. When you carry all of your groceries home in backpacks, a yard long box is not conducive to easy transport by mochila (Spanish for backpack).
Consult often!
The other thing note about Exito is that in several places in the store they have these kiosk stands where you can check the prices of things. Now, you are thinking, no big deal. We have those kiosks at home. And that's true, we do. But the difference here is that you really need them! You see about a third of the items on the shelves have no price labels. And of those that do, often the label is several inches, sometimes feet (maybe even a yard) from where the item is located on the shelf.

By the way, if one kept rapt attention on Sesame Street, you were likely to see those clips replayed in Spanish. So I would have also learned that "salida" meant the way, way, way, way out. And as you learn more Spanish, you see why that is very sensible.

You see the verb to leave is "salir" in Spanish. And the place you leave, the exit is "salida." Similarly, the verb to enter is "entrar" in Spanish, and the way in is the "entrada."

So if you find yourself one day in an Exito grocery store in Colombia and you want back out into the sunlight, don't follow the signs with the name of the store. Because, it's just as Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, No Exit. Or No Salida. Or actually Huis Clos, because he was writing in French.

But you won't get lost. Because regardless of language you can follow the green man from the universal symbol for exit.
Green means go! Or leave. Or both.
It's the way, way, way, way out.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The High Life – Erich

I am currently living the high life, higher than I ever have before. But by this I don't mean that I am supremely wealthy, nor partying excessively, nor under the influence of any intoxicants. What I mean is that I am living at a higher elevation than I ever have before.

We are in Bogotá, Colombia. Bogotá has an elevation of 2,644 meters or 8,675 feet. And we are living on the third floor. So you can see we are way up there!

It took us awhile to realize that the reason we get so out of breath when we walk about is because of altitude sickness. But even with the lesser oxygen content, we love Bogotá. And there are many reasons.

How about fruit as a reason. Colombia is a land of delicious fruits. There are familiar fruits like bananas, but so much fresher and more flavorful than at home. (Though not necessarily any better than Kerala, India.) There are fruits we have enjoyed in other places, but more plentiful here. As an example, passion fruit. Previously, Carver figured out that granadilla and passion fruit are one and the same. Except now we know that they are not. Passion fruit, called maracuyá here, is the same genus as granadilla, but not the same species. But both are readily available.

And then there are a whole host of fruits we've never encountered: Uchuvas (size and shape of cherry tomatoes but orange in color and with a tart flavor), curuba (looks like a small finger sized cucumber, but has more of a passion fruit interior with a kiwi mixed with toothpaste flavor), tree tomato (also called tamarillo, red/orange in color, but with a mix of tomato, spicy cilantro, and mango flavor), small red plums (size of cherry tomatoes, round and red, but super sweet and juicy), and guanabana (like a giant custard apple, though we had never seen a custard apple until Vietnam).
Four of the many new fruits
And while on the topic of fruit in Colombia, fruit salad is a major treat here. They make it with thin slices of bananas, apples, papaya, melon, peach, mango, strawberry, and more. Then it is drenched in a cream, something like sweetened condensed milk. And they put shredded cheese on the top. Oh, and if you're lucky, you get one of those small red plums!
In high school, I was in a musical in which one of the songs was called "Fruit Salad"
You can get your fruit at the local grocery store and there is lots of selection. But if that's not enough for you, try out Paloquemao Market! It is this large market in downtown Bogotá, with both indoor and outdoor sections. You can find dozens of fruit stands in the fruit section.
You could get lost here! Luckily Carver didn't.
You can find dozens of vegetable stands in the vegetable section. Guess what you can find in the meat and milk sections?
Carnes (meats) and lacteos (dairy) together? That's not kosher!
Here's a hint. You can buy four different kinds of ham in one stand alone!
Cerdo = pork; Cordero = lamb; Pollo = chicken; Ahumado = smoked; and Jamon = ham
And then there is the flower section. Thousands of flowers in hundreds of colors and varieties everywhere. I am trying to imagine how they can sell that many flowers. We did see plenty of people buying flowers, but with the numbers they have, wouldn't every citizen of Bogotá need to buy one to sell them all?
Floral overload
Other foods are the same but different here. For example, squeeze bags of food are very popular. You can see jelly in this picture. But you find your mayonnaise, sour cream, and a variety of yogurt drinks in them.
Why dirty a knife when you can squeeze?
Tony the Tiger is advertising Zucaritas here, but that is pretty much a translation of Frosties, which is the name for Frosted Flakes in many parts of the world.
Son bu-u-u-u-ueno!
Perhaps best of all, the mathematician in me loves the bread! See here, white bread is pan blanco, but whole wheat bread is called pan integral. And what good mathematician wouldn't want calculus with every sandwich?
The derivative of pan integral is just the pan. (Ha! Fundamental Theorem of Calculus joke!)
We tried two typical Colombian dishes, both of which we enjoyed. The first was a soup called Ajiaco, sort of a thick, opaque soup made of potato, garlic, chicken, and herbs. On the side you receive rice and avocado. But the idea is that you cut up your avocado into chunks and put them into the soup. Same with the rice, except you don't have to cut that into chunks. It's rice.
I do so like green soup and rice! Thank you, thank you, Sam from Colombia!
The other was bandeja paisa. It included several different items together on one platter. There are a variety of seasoned meats included fried pork, ground beef, and a hot dog like sausage. There are thick dark beans. And there is rice. On the top is a piece of arepa, which is a small, round, fried corn bread. It's also served with a fried egg, a slice of avocado, and a fried plantain.
If you had to have a national food, this would be a good choice
We also went through a mall and saw a few things I've never seen before. Such as?

You know the men's room right?
Familiar
Right next to it is another bathroom with smaller sinks (which were orange) and toilets that is clearly labeled as the boy's room.
Not so familiar
It's not uncommon to see a McDonalds in a mall food court. But have you ever been to a food court which didn't have a full McDonalds, but only had a dessert section of McDonalds? All they sell are the desserts.
Who needs entrees?
We happened to be there on a Sunday morning. And there was a church service going on right outside the food court. Do you think it is weird to be praying while knowing behind you someone is buying McFlurries?
 
Personally, I was excited to see Mujer Maravilla just hanging out in the mall too. Complete with her lazo de la verdad. And that's the truth!
Mujer Maravilla! What more does anyone need to say?
I know! It's a lot to see and do. And being from much lower lands, we do get winded sometimes. But that's no problem. You can just find some artistic concrete benches on which to relax.
Doesn't Syarra look comfy?
Because sometimes you want to be low key, even when you're living on high!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Jiggety Jog – Erich

Some say thirteen is an unlucky number. I've never personally agreed with that. I mean, it's prime. How bad could it be?

There's a story about Richard Courant, he was a great mathematician. He was the founder of an institute at New York University, and they were building a new structure, Warren Weaver Hall, on campus for it. The plans called for the building to have this huge lounge on the top floor for faculty and graduate students to hang and have activities. And that top floor was the thirteenth.

Well, Courant was looking over the plans for the building and saw that they called for that top floor to be called the fourteenth floor. He went to the architect with a demand: "This is going to be an institute of mathematics! We are not skipping the number thirteen!"

For me, thirteen has treated me well. And today is no exception. Today we are flying to Bogotá, Colombia. But it comes at the end of a thirteen day return to the U.S.A.

Carver needed to take some AP exams, which occur in May. Last year he needed to do so as well. We managed to find a school outside of Istanbul, Turkey where he could take them. This year, we figured we would simplify the process. We would just hit the United States before heading to South America and he could take them there.

There's an irony in the fact that it is much easier to organize the taking of American tests in Turkey then in the U.S. Bureaucrats! Thankfully our friend Tamara got on the phone and made things happen.

We wondered about returning to the United States. And in many ways it was weird.
See, you gotta admit, America's weird.
There were good weirdnesses, like people generally following the rules of the road.
BB8 made from legos? Okay, weird in cool ways at times.
There were bad weirdnesses like the high price of internet and prepaid SIM cards, very much in opposition to pretty much everywhere else. But we did speak the language, and that certainly helps.

We stayed with my parents and it was wonderful to see them. I even got to see my mother on Mother's Day, which is not something that has occurred in many years. Even when I lived in the U.S., I was in Pennsylvania and my parents were in Florida. It wasn't a quick jaunt over for a Mother's Day lunch.

We visited Tamara and her family. There we experienced "the world's best Thai food" and "the world's best pizza." So claimed the advertising. Though, I think I may have experienced better than each of those elsewhere in the world: Thailand and Vietnam, respectively. (Thailand you expected, right?)

We also headed to Ft. Myers Beach. This is where Alrica grew up. Here we met up with Aunt Adana and Uncle Don. Alrica and Adana got to drive around town and visit Memoli Lane. (Yes, of course they were visiting Memory Lane, but we really did drive down a street called Memoli Lane.)
Grandma Fawn got to talk to all three of her kids (and three grandkids) for Mother's Day.
Aunt Adana took the kids sailing. And we all had some good time for fishing. You can see our mighty catches, none of which was a "keeper".
Syarra caught a catfish
Carver caught a catfish too.
Alrica caught a crevalle jack.
And I caught a lane snapper.
And now as we head away again, it is with a bit of sadness. However, this time it won't be so long until we return, and we return for good. Plus, it isn't nearly as scary anymore. We've done the international travel thing a few times.

The thirteen days treated us well. Let's treat it well back. Try to remember: thirteen is just a number. It needs your love too. As do fractions, but baby steps. We'll get there.

A Dairy Farm - Syarra

We were in county Kilkenny of Ireland, on a very interesting farm with cows, horses, chickens, and dogs. Yes, that last one is a little out of place but there are dogs. We got this place on Airbnb. The owners of this farm have been renting out a house on the farm for a while now. It was listed as a working farm and it is one.

At seven-ish in the morning and four-ish in the evening, yes -ish, here in Ireland times are always ish, they milk the cows. There are about ninety cows being milked on this farm. And it takes a whole process to milk them. Three mornings in a row and two evenings I went to milk the cows. 
Ready for milking
 
Working with the cows.

Every day someone does it with us. The process is:
  • Wash the equipment. It can be washed internally by filling water in a sink and having a pipe suck it in and another that blows it out.
  • Get twelve cows in a blocked off area. Twelve is for the number of machines.
    Getting exactly twelve.
  • Spray each cow with anti-bacterial liquid. This I like doing, it is easy and quick. 
     
  • Attaching the machine.
    Once this is done we put machines on the cows to get the milk out. The milk flows to clear tanks that if you flip a switch goes to a bigger tank. Which goes to a large metal tank that stores it.
    I am attaching the machine.
  • Wait until they stop producing milk, then take off the machine. 
    Removing the machine.
     
  • Spray again and release. 
     
  • There are two areas for cows. As this happens you do the other side.
  • Repeat the process until you are done.

     
    This is the equipment.
That is the process for milking the cows. It take two hours. But do not turn away from whatever device you are reading this on now, this blog post is not at an end!

As I said before, the milk flows to clear tanks that if you flip a switch goes to a bigger tank. Near the end we make sure that the milk does not go to a bigger tank. Once you have a full tank you flip a switch, push a button, and turn a handle and milk pours from a tap into a bucket. Do this a few more times and now you have buckets full of milk. Walk out of the milking barn and through a gate... and feed hungry/thirsty calves warm milk. You feed them in a large plastic container with things so they can eat/drink.
They would all crowd to one side when they could be on the other side. Silly calfs.

They would suck on your fingers.
The youngest group eating.

Now that the cows are milked and the calves are fed, the cows have to go to a pasture. Twice now I have gotten to ride a quad bike around the farm to a pasture right across the street. Each day the cows boundaries are made smaller. It is on a twenty-one day system and each day they get more grass. And now the cows are in the pasture.

Today I learned that cows are picky about grass. If the grass is too long they will not eat it. If the grass is too short they will not eat. It need to be just right. So we need to cut the grass. They have a machine that folds out into a huge lawn mower by the pull of a rope. It is attached to a tractor and pulled around. Today, I got to ride in the tractor as the grass was cut.

The milking and feeding happens in the morning and evening the other stuff does not though new stuff happen instead. Then one farm day is done.

Statistical Fallacies - Carver

While we were in Ireland, we went to Blarney Castle. What you need is a bit of background information. The story goes that Queen Elizabeth I was with the owner of Blarney Castle. Legend has it that she said about what he was saying, "This is all blarney! What he says, he never means!" So that basically defined the word "blarney."

A sign in the Blarney Castle was saying that Winston Churchill kissed the Blarney Stone. Later, he went on to make great speeches.

In Statistics, this is a selection bias. There are others who were very eloquent and never kissed the Blarney Stone. I also suspect that there was someone who kissed the Blarney Stone and wasn't very eloquent, even afterwards. This is basically choosing the specific people who kissed the Blarney Stone and were very eloquent. I said it was blarney. My Dad already made a blog post about the selection bias in Cape Town. He also made a post about the Blarney Castle. However, this is not nearly so bothersome as the second fallacy I will point out because this one was about a legend.
Selection Bias Blog Post
Blarney Castle Blog Post

Also in Ireland, we went to Waterford and toured the Waterford Crystal Factory. We saw how the crystal was made and blown, and how someone drew in pen on it so that someone else would know where to carve on it. We saw how it was polished. We learned that it only takes seven minutes for the standard design of vase to be made from start to finish. We learned that it takes six months to make a crystal guitar. We learned about the history of the factory.
Spinning the glass

Spinning the glass continued

Crystal Clock

Look! The pendulum works!


All over were signs about what was happening. And one of them said that the glass is heated at 1200 degrees Celsius, 12 times the boiling point of water. But that's not true. In Statistics, there are two types of Interval-Ratio Data (data that is measurements), Ratio Data and Interval Data. Something is Ratio Data if division makes sense. In other words, if zero is the lowest it can be, then it is Ratio Data. One example is height. If you are six feet tall, you are twice as tall as someone who is three feet tall. Interval Data is Data that is not Ratio. One example is years. The year zero is not the start of all time. Therefore, the year 2000 is not twice as far along in time as the year 1000. Similarly, you can have negative degrees Celsius. So Celsius is Interval Data. Adding and subtracting makes sense but multiplying and dividing doesn't. Let me prove my point. 1200 degrees Celsius is 2192 degrees Fahrenheit. And water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. This would indicate that it is heated at approximately 10.34 times the boiling point of water. These conflict. The real way to do it would be to convert everything to Kelvin. 0 Kelvin is the coldest anything can get. Kelvin is Ratio Data. 1200 degrees Celsius is 1473.15 Kelvin. Water boils at 373.15 Kelvin. So in truth, the glass is heated at approximately 4 times the temperature of water. That is two-fifths of what they said (because that is Ratio Data.) And when they put it on a sign, they should have it correct. Now you know about Ratio vs Interval Data and you will know when there is a mistake like that.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Too Hard, Too Soft, Just Right – Erich

In astronomy there is a term: the Goldilocks Zone. It comes from the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Remember her? Goes into the home of the bears and steals their porridge. First one is too hot, next too cold, next just right. Same with chairs and beds: Too hard, too soft, and just right.

On this trip, I have learned to adjust my expectations as regards beds. When you are moving every few weeks, you get a new bed every few weeks. Some are hard. Goodness, East Asians like their beds hard! I mean, it's like a plank with a tiny bit of padding. Or no padding. Padding is for the weak! Some are soft and you sink and sink and sink. But all in all, I have learned that whatever bed I am in, I have to decide it is just right.

I've learned to be much more flexible on a lot of things. Pillow thickness and firmness, fat percentage of my milk, size of the spoons I have available with which to eat, brands of peanut butter, fuel source for cooking, and others.

But I'm off topic. In astronomy, the Goldilocks Zone has to do with how far a planet is from its star, depending on the size and output of the star. If it is too close, it can't support life because molecules like water would be boiled away. If it is too far, everything would be a solid. But if the planet falls in the Goldilocks Zone, there is a greater potential that it could support life. Or at least life like ours, built on carbon chains and filled with water.

I want to apply the idea of the Goldilocks Zone to "things to do." While in Ireland, I kissed the Blarney Stone. That in and of itself is fun, interesting. And, if legend is true, I should be growing far more eloquent from having done so. I'm not sure if that is only in speech or if it applies to writing as well. You will have to tell me in comments if this post has a certain mastery of rhetoric that was henceforth lacking or present only in diminished form.
The Blarney Stone is in that little gap way up on the parapet
But while in Blarney Castle, I saw a panel saying that according to some magazine kissing the Blarney Stone was in the top 99 things to put on your bucket list.

I personally am not a bucket list guy. But it got me thinking. What is it about an activity that determines whether or not it is amazing enough to be universally bucket listable? I'll let you ponder that for a few paragraphs while I describe the entire Blarney Castle scene.

The castle itself is interesting. As you walk through the rooms, you learn what each was used for and how we know that, and why that would have been. I'll give an example. In several places, you see multiple rooms, one atop the other. You see the floors were not stone at every level. If they had been, columns would have been required to hold the weight. So instead, stones protrude from the walls and they held up a wooden floor between levels. Sadly, those wooden floors have not survived the ravages of time, but you can see where they must have been.

In one such double high room, we were standing in the "Young Ladies Room." Don't be scandalized. The young ladies weren't there, and hadn't been in many decades. Above the Young Ladies Room was the Priest's Room. And how did they know this? Well, there were fewer windows. And there was an alcove carved into one of the walls, most likely for keeping religious items and figurines.

It must have cramped the young ladies' style to have the priest living upstairs. No wild late night parties. Well, unless you invited the priest.

In addition to the castle itself, there is a poison garden where all of the plants there are in some way harmful to humans. Some of them are what you would think of as poison: eat it and you die. Others were skin irritants like poison ivy. Others were only dangerous to people when people used the plant for something weird, like tobacco. In it's natural form, it doesn't much affect us. But dry it out and smoke it, and it can kill you!

There was a cave called Badger's Cave just below the castle. When Oliver Cromwell's armies came to raid the castle and finally took it, inside they only found two servants. Apparently the Irish forces had escaped through the cave. Though today the cave only goes back a couple hundred feet, legend says it once had three exits: one to the nearby lake, one to Cork, and one more further off near the coast.

We also saw the Rock Close. Here there are many rock formations that were once sacred to Druids. And there is the Witches Rock and Witches Kitchen that deal with the Blarney Witch. Signs assured us that she only comes out at night and since the area closes at dusk, we were safe.
Syarra and I trying to outsneer the witch in the stone
So back to our Goldilocks Zone for things we can do. If someone told you before you died you needed to buy orange juice at the grocery store, you'd laugh. I mean that is just so mundane, so common, that you've done it dozens of times without thinking twice about it. That's just too easy and too everyday to be an activity worth note.
You're thinking, why a picture of a house?
On the other end of the spectrum, if someone told you that you needed to stand in front of the house in Cork, Ireland where George Boole once lived, you'd say, "What?" First, you might be unaware that George Boole was a great mathematician who created Boolean Algebra, the very set of logical rules by which computer chips operate. And even if you did know that, finding a house he lived in at one point in his life would seem too esoteric or too trivial to put on your bucket list. I mean, unless you are a huge fan of Boolean Algebra or Boolean variables in computer science. (Oh no, you say, I don't like Boolean variables "one bit.") There's a joke in there for the Booligans. (That's what I named George Boole fans.)
Plaque on the house
So for an activity or event to make a more universal bucket list it has to be in the Goldilocks Zone. Not so uncommon as to have never been heard of, but not so common as to make the bucket lister yawn just thinking about it. This one's too dull. This one's too weird. But that one is just right.

And so kissing the Blarney Stone fits. It's legendary enough that many people have heard of it. It has a fun history and tales of its mystical properties. But it isn't so easy to get to that everyone has kissed it. In fact, even when you're there, it's not as easy as you might think.

You climb to the parapet. Here, you lay on your back leaning into the gap left for water drainage. And with your head upside-down, you kiss the base stone there on the castle wall. These days there are two iron bars to hold and a man keeping you from falling. In days of yore, it was probably a bit more dangerous.
Alrica kissing the Blarney Stone
But it didn't scare me. It was fine, laying on your back, hanging your head, and kissing a rock. But as a mattress, that parapet floor would certainly not have been just right.