Commute with Kelly: Five Things I Can’t Commute Without

There are five things that I just can’t commute to New York City without:

This one is most obvious.  Our phones are our lives.  I wouldn’t be able to get to work the first day without Google Maps.  Because of the Urban Spoon app, I found the nearest Indian food place without wasting time wandering around on my 30 minute (well 20 once I wait for an elevator) lunch break.  I keep up with editors in San Francisco, Dallas, Lexington and New York via email.  I listen to music (very low or only in one ear for safety reasons) as I walk through the streets or sit on the train.  One thing I learned the hard way though is to never text while walking.  I know it seems silly, but I have gotten inches from speeding cabs on more than one occasion because of texting.  Always pay attention while walking, no matter where you are!

Everyone I know who has to commute hates it, but with the right stuff, it really isn’t so bad.  I love the fact that I have 30-40 minutes at the start and end of every work day where I can either just sit and read, listen to music or get to know the person sitting next to me.  So far I’ve read The Monster of Florence, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Fifty Shades Darker as I’ve commuted.  Last year, it took me the whole summer just to finish one book!  If you’re not into books, listening to music, playing games on your phone or just looking out the window are other nice ways to cherish your downtime while on your commute.

This may be the writer in me but I carry a marble notebook with me everywhere.  Aside from my planner, which I don’t always have on hand, I use a notebook to leave myself reminders, take notes during work, or write down the crazy stories of my day.  I don’t think I could leave the house without pen and paper in some form.

Everyone should do this!  Take a zip lock sandwich bag and fill it with essentials.  I keep Oil Absorbing Sheets, Excedrin, a small mirror, anti-bacterial, pens, gum, lip balm, floss, tweezers, tissues and a mini toothbrush and paste in mine.  This way, you don’t have to look through all the compartments of your bag to get to what you want and it makes it easy to change from bag to bag.  Also, if you get caught in rain, your lotion explodes or your water bottle leaks, nothing will get ruined.

As told in the post “Don’t Just Think On Your Feet, Think Of Your Feet,” I wouldn’t be able to commute without my commuting shoes.  I still have blisters and calluses from those first two weeks of walking two miles each way in flats. Walking as a part of your commute is a good way to incorporate a bit of exercise into your day, but walking in shoes without support can lead to back and knee pain.  You could really ruin your feet.  I commute either in a pair of Keds or these Fit Foam Adidas Flip Flops.  Change up your shoes and your feet will thank you!

Spending Time in Italian Churches and Museums

As an art history major and taking an Italian Masterpieces class, lots of time is spent touring museums and visiting churches. Though spending time in church is probably the last thing you think you’d want to do, some of the coolest art can be found in these places: the tomb of Michelangelo in Santa Croce, the frescoes by Masolino and Masaccio in Santa Maria del Carmine, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. Even if art isn’t your thing, if you’re in Italy, at least take the time to go to the Uffizi (originally office buildings designed by Vasari for the Medici family) or spend some time in the Duomo (if you don’t mind enclosed spaces and hundreds of stairs, take a trip up through the dome for a great view of the entire city).

If you decide to spend a day on some art, there are some things you need to know to be prepared. Gypsies and pickpockets love to hang out around tourist areas, most living right around the Duomo. If you’re carrying a bag, keep close track of it, holding it close to your body and making sure it’s zipped up—though keep in mind, there are some who will go the extra mile and cut your bag if they can discretely. Many suggest using a money pouch—kind of like a fanny pack but under your clothes and very easily hidden—to protect your money, even if your bag does get compromised. Mostly, if you pay attention to your surroundings and tell the gypsies a firm “NO,” you’ll get by just fine.

If you’re going into a church, you need to be dressed appropriately—even in the summer. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. Occasionally they’ll let you get away with your knees showing as long as they’re almost or partially covered, but you need to decide if it’s worth the risk. A few churches, like San Miniato al Monte, will provide awkward poncho like cover ups if you’re dressed inappropriately, but you will just look like a ridiculous tourist. Bring a scarf or shawl to wrap around your shoulders. Opt for bermuda shorts or a long skirt to hide those knees. You can always bring some clothes to change into if you get too hot, but the interior of churches are generally nice and cool.

Finally, you’re going to want to take tons of pictures to show off to your friends…but you’re going to have to refrain. Most museums with few exceptions will allow you to take pictures—if you can, the flash MUST be off, or you’ll add to the damage many of these works have already suffered. The majority of churches would also prefer you looked around without filming or photographing its content, partially because some are still filled with practicing monks or just because the decorations are old and need good maintenance. Even if you can sneak a picture or two, try to hold off from doing so; it will only make the paintings fade and flake sooner, and soon only reproduced images will be left—we definitely don’t want that.

No matter where you go in the world, there is sure to be a wide variety of art and architecture marking its growth and culture. Take the time to appreciate it, even if you aren’t interested in museums. You may be surprised by the talent you stumble upon.



Real Chinese Food

In my three years of college I have experienced a wide variety of take-out, fast food. In fact, there are a plethora of options right near my campus, as I’m sure is the case with many of you.

In Philadelphia, we can get cheese steaks, pizza, chicken, fries, burgers, Chinese food—you name it, in about 30 minutes or less.

A personal favorite of mine is New Asia, a Chinese takeout 3 blocks from main campus. They don’t do delivery, but they made a mean pizza roll (oh, did I mention they specialize in both Chinese and American favorites?).

On any given day, New Asia caters to a variety of students. You can get General Tso’s chicken, friend rice by the bucket, and noodles for days. I’m always in Heaven.

Then I actually went to China.

I still like New Asia, and you can bet I’ll be back there in August. But, now that I have experienced real “Chinese” food, I don’t know which I’ll prefer.

When I arrived in Beijing, I had trouble with chopsticks, as many newbies do, but I also had mixed feelings about the menu.

Some food was similar—dumplings for instance a big deal in China. They have every kind and are considered a staple at most meals. New Asia could compete easily with some of the dumplings I tried.

But other offerings seemed to come from different places. First of all, in China, they don’t name their food after Generals. So, General Tso’s is unheard of. In fact, I didn’t see it once.

And another misconception? Rice.

At school, I could order rice, just rice, and be satisfied in my Chinese food craving. However, in China, rice is not a main dish. In fact, it’s served at the very end of the meal, almost as an afterthought. It signifies that the other courses are finished.

When my class would go to restaurants and not be particularly thrilled with the duck liver, or heart that we tried, we would patiently wait for the “fried rice” or noodles. We would have waited forever. Although it exists, and is amazingly delicious, it’s not a huge part of the menu. Instead you have fine meats, marinated veggies, dumplings, crab, and soy.

I had a blast trying the food in China. I had crab dumplings, duck heart, and the best cucumbers I’ve ever tasted.

But here’s what I discovered: Chinese food in Philadelphia is a distant cousin to Chinese food in China. Both are good, but both are different.

Because we live in such a huge country, with plenty of cultures, influences and people we have access to food from all over the world. Don’t be fooled. Food is specific to location and local influence. In name alone, it may appear to be one thing, but stay open minded. Be prepared to have multiple food perspectives.

Just like China, Pizza in Italy probably doesn’t taste like pizza from the dining hall, or maybe it does? You tell me.



Study Abroad in Florence: The Scary Factor

When you’re anywhere in the world, home or in a foreign country, there’s going to be danger. Crime is literally everywhere. Whether it’s gangs, robbery, pickpockets or even more dangerous activities, there’s no avoiding it. When you’re by yourself in a new country, the danger factor may feel more escalated. In Florence, the main danger is pick pocketing—from gypsies and otherwise—and, mostly for the ladies, being followed around by creepy men. In just the 10 days I’ve been here, my roommate and I have been followed several times and had many encounters with gypsies. Any of these night and day excursions could have ended badly, if we weren’t careful.

Just because you’re somewhere new without family or your usual big group of friends to help protect you doesn’t mean you’re unsafe. There are lots of ways to travel safely in your new environment and not feel like you have to stay in your house at all times. The most obvious people here all the time, even at home, is to travel in groups. Being with at least one other person, male or female, instantly makes you a more difficult target. You have someone else to watch your back and pick up on the details you may not have noticed. You have a partner to help get you out of a bad situation or devise a plan to walk down a different route if necessary. The list goes on and on. If you must walk alone, pay attention to your surroundings. Watch your belongings and don’t just let your bag bounce around behind you where anyone can grab it. And do your best to stay on main streets unless wherever you’re going is in an alley, in which case…good luck.

Another way to stay safe is to simply plan ahead. Ask around to find out what people are up to and who you can travel with. Also specifically ask your friends if they’ll mind walking with you to get books or grab a bite to eat. Figure out the best route to take before you go—it’s ok to get lost, but at least having an idea of where you’re going is better than walking around in sketchy areas (especially if you don’t have a map on you). You should also consider what you need and/or want to take with  you. If you’re just going on a walk to explore the city, maybe leave your wallet behind. If you’re just running to the bookstore to pick up a book or school supplies, take a smaller amount of money and don’t bother bringing your camera. The less belongings, and expensive belongings, you have on your person will make you feel safer—and also make you less of a target.

Finally, be careful about who you talk to. I know this probably sounds lame, like your parents always telling you not to talk to strangers. But you never know who’s a creep and who just genuinely wants to be your friend. It’s always good to make connections in a new country—who doesn’t want an international buddy?–but you need to be perceptive. If they seem like a creep, they’re probably a creep.  Use your best judgment, and get your friend’s opinions too, and even when you’re meeting new people, don’t tell them your address (especially if you’re living with a host family)and be careful about handing out your phone number. Just in general, being more cautious than you would be at home is the best bet for maintaining your safety as well as your friends’.

Basically, to be safe you just have to take precautions and be aware. Plan ahead, know where you’re going and what you’re doing and ask people to go with you. If you follow these basic rules, you’ll get through it without losing any of your belongings and having the best time of your life.

Be careful and have fun!



10 Ways to Fight Summer Boredom

We all know that when it comes summer and everything is winding down, it can be pretty easy to slip into the feeling of not wanting to do anything.  However, once you’ve arrived at that point, it doesn’t take long until not doing anything morphs into being bored.  While it is perfectly acceptable to feel that you have deserved a break after duking it out with the school year, don’t let too much of a “good” thing bore you down!  Try some of these ideas to still maintain the freedom of a vacation, but also keep your summer exiting and memorable.

1. Travel

Planning a fun road trip with some high school friends, or perhaps college friends who live nearby, is a great option and relatively inexpensive if you split the gas cost amongst four or five people.  Another alterative could be driving to visit other friends a few cities away, which then provides you with a place to stay overnight without having to pay hotel/motel fees.  Or, if you’ve decided to save up for a travel splurge, going abroad or flying domestically – either to tour or visit friends – is very rewarding and calls for a great way to spend some of your vacation.

2. Get a Job

While working isn’t always the ideal way to spend a summer, the money racked in can more than make up for it.  A summer job doesn’t necessarily have to be related to retail or food service.  There are a lot of opportunities to make good money but also enjoy what you’re doing (but that’s not to say that some retail and food service jobs will never meet that criteria!).  Working at a day camp or water park is a good option if you like working with kids.  You can serve either as a counselor or a lifeguard, be able to relax in the sun all day, but still earn your keep.  Babysitting is another viable option if you have the qualifications and the ability to reach out to your community as a trusted sitter.

3. Do Some Summer Cleaning

If you’re one of those people (like me!) who enjoy cleaning out that cluttered basement or garage, take on one of those projects this summer.  It’s a great way to be on your feet and concentrate on a worthwhile task at the same time.  Once the space is cleared, you can even decorate and make the place more “live-able”—who knows, you might have just created a new summer hangout spot!  Even better, your parents may offer to pay you a small sum for the service.

4. Make Some Money off of Your Clutter

Once you’ve cleaned out that living space, you’re probably going to find a lot of old furniture/toys/clothing that you don’t really need anymore (or didn’t even remember having as a kid!).  Talk it over with your parents and see if a garage sale might not be a bad idea.  Other options for your nicer furnishings are to take them to a consignment store in your area.  These stores will typically accept and display your belongings on the storefront for a specified amount of time (perhaps 60-90 days on average) and cut you part of the profits if they sell.  Many other thrift stores will pay you cash on the spot for your items (usually in the clothing and toys category).  Hop online and type in those keywords and your zip code to find such places near you.

5. Earn Money by Taking Surveys

On those slow days when you’re not sure what to do, and feel like making some extra cash, enroll in a few online survey websites that pay you by check or by PayPal for the redemption of a certain amount of points.  This is fun if you already love sharing your opinion.  However, always check first to make sure the site is legitimate (there are scams out there, after all).  The best way to do this is by searching for reviews online by people who have used the site, and likewise by checking the Better Business Bureau website for accreditation.  Once you find the right survey site, you can take multiple questionnaires that may award you points immediately so that the site knows what kind of surveys to match you up with.  It is also recommended by survey takers that you join multiple panels to yield better results and increase the amount of surveys that you qualify for (you will screen out after the first few questions if your answers don’t match the type of person the survey giver wants).  Despite that, if you put the time and effort into it, you can rack up enough points that can be redeemed for a cash payout, or other type of reward.  Just make sure you understand how each site regulates their points/payout system, and you’re good to go!  You won’t get rich off of this by any means, but you may make some spending money.

6. Take on a Crafting Project

I’m also one of those people who love being creative.  One of my early summer projects this month was making a T-shirt quilt out of some old shirts I found shoved into the back of my dresser.  Seeing as I already had sewing materials, the shirts, and one black throw blanket to sew them onto, it only cost me approximately $15 to complete:  $10 for another black throw to sew as the back of the quilt, and $5 for some quilt batting from the local crafting store.  It’s an excellent way to keep yourself busy and make something useful at the same time!

7. Exercise

Whether it’s joining a local gym for the summer, jogging around the neighborhood, or exercising at home, keeping active is a great way to avoid gaining weight during a summer of being stagnant, and to promote positive energy and self-esteem.  Exercising outside especially helps you to get a safe amount of sun (as long as you monitor how long you’re outside and make sure to wear sunscreen) and release more endorphins.  Make it a group activity when you can as well.  Exercising in a social setting can make the act of exercising in itself more enjoyable and doable.  And in the end, who doesn’t want to come back to school in the fall looking their best?

8. Attend a Seminar or Workshop

If there’s something you’re really interested in but don’t have time to pursue at school, summer is the perfect opportunity to let that interest take hold.  If you like art or writing, for example, take some summer writing workshops or art classes that may be offered at your local library or on a nearby school’s campus.  Explore something you’ve always wanted to try, but just never had the time to.

9. Explore the City

I never knew how many attractions were available in my own hometown until after I had already gone away to college.  When I came home for my first summer, many of my college friends who were also from my hometown (but had attended other high schools), showed me a wide array of places I had never been to.  Keep an eye out for areas of town that have great restaurants, bars, and clubs for that fun Friday night with your friends—but also check for some good theatre, museums, and concerts that you may have never known existed.  Larger city parks (like, for me, Forest Park in St. Louis) usually house more than one of these attractions, so just by traveling to one area you can discover a multitude of fun activities.  But as always, remember to stay in a group if you’re in an unfamiliar part of town.  Be safe—while also being classy!

10. Take Some “You” Time!

While it’s great to have an eventful summer, remember to relax and focus on you.  Some alone time can be a good thing.  Keep a journal, decorate your room, shop around the mall—do something that you enjoy that doesn’t necessarily have to be done with other people all the time.

Your entire summer shouldn’t be limited to these ten things, but the most important concept is making sure that you maintain an active summer but also get that feeling of elation.  After all, you did make it through that school year; perhaps you didn’t get all the grades you wanted, or perhaps you were more stressed out than you would have liked.  But regenerating over the summer can certainly lead to a more positive school year in the fall.  The more relaxed and prepared you are for the upcoming semester, the more successful you will be.