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Good morning from Washington, D.C! The student group I am traveling with has arrived and set up comfortably in the guest quarters at the National Franciscan Monastery. Many of us traveled from Quincy and other points by train, and let me tell you, we enjoyed the ride.
If you have never taken the Amtrak, I recommend you get a ticket and go someplace. Unlike a tour bus, you can actually walk around and stretch your legs. There’s no metal bar bruising your backside through the seat cushion, and the conductors are really nice people for the most part. We took the Illinois Zephyr and the Capitol Limited trains.
Traveling by train is like going back in time to the bygone days of the 1940s and ‘50’s. You zip along at a fast pace and watch all the cars that have to stop for you with a smile. I will be the first to admit that I loaded my iPod with a special mix of music from the era of rail travel just to enhance the ambiance of the trip. If I closed my eyes I was on the Polar Express, with Tom Hanks dashing by and handing out ticket punches and hot chocolate. Our trains were pulled by some whopper-sized engines, too, but they did not belch coal cinders and steam.
Did I mention that trains that go long distances having sleeping cars, too? It’s a hotel on wheels! Sleeping quarters, a bar/lounge and a dining car give you everything you need for cross-country travel and you don’t have to drive. Many people complain about train travel. It’s too expensive, of course.
The trains don’t always go where you need them to go either. I rebut those claims as best as I can for you. Sure, train travel is expensive. The old days of paying a dime for a streetcar ride across the state are long over with. Amtrak employees don’t walk you through x-ray machines or frisk your kids, however. The trains don’t go everywhere you want. That is very true. The only way to get curbside service to your hotel in whatever destination city is with a bus, cab or driving yourself. If you have ever been in one of the grand old Union Stations that dot every major American city, however, you will understand why you want to end your trip there and seek other means to get to your hotel. They are beautiful, majestic old places, grand in size and scope, transporting you instantly back in time.
Just a few things to think about as you look forward through the holidays to the summer travel season. Take a chance, and take a train.
— Greg Carter
Having completed all of my semester final exams, I would sure like a break, just to take a breather and maybe a nap. Instead, I am packing.
For the next eight days I will be enjoying a learning project for school: Christmas in Washington, D.C. The group from Quincy University that is going with me includes one professor, one friar and 14 students. Most of them are history majors, but not all. Every student comes from a different walk of life and location. Two were soldiers, one is a nurse, another is a biologist. One wants to be a lawyer and two want to be accountants. The rest run a gamut of different future career goals. Some are from Illinois, one is from Florida, two from Missouri and one is from Ohio. It is one motley crew, to be sure.
We leave at daybreak on Thursday, spend a day in Chicago, then head east by train to Washington. We have a busy schedule, to be sure. There are 8 museums and the Library of Congress on our list, Arlington National Cemetery, and we even get to spend a day with Senator Dick Durbin and watch the U.S. Senate debate about the “fiscal cliff” we are all heading off. If the weather works out we will cap off the trip with a night tour of the National Zoo and have dinner in the former home of Light Horse Harry Lee, the Revolutionary War hero.
In addition, we are giving some time to a special project. We will be spending a day working at the national capitol homeless shelter, the largest homeless shelter in the United States. I don’t think we will make a tremendous difference in one day, but at least the staff members, who normally serve meals three times a day to a homeless population almost the size of Quincy, might get a break.
I look forward to sending back my weekly reports to you all “from the front,” so you can be right there with us as we experience so many new things. This trip makes my fifth to the nation’s capital, but every time I have gone I have seen things I didn’t see before, and I have never gone with the same friends or family, which makes it all the more interesting.
If you have never been to Washington, I recommend it highly. I also recommend that if you have children that have a chance to go on a school trip there, send them. The sights and sounds will last a lifetime. See you all in a week or so!
– Greg Carter
MySpace.com, remember them? For many of us, MySpace was our first social networking experience, besides maybe xanga or friendster. If you’re anything like me, you haven’t logged into any of those accounts in over a year. MySpace is planning to change that soon with a completely redesigned site. The new MySpace looks kind of cool, but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.
I’m not one of the lucky few users who were invited to beta test the new site, but I have formed some opinions based on media that has already been released. The current login page for the new site has a 3-second looping full-screen 1080p video of a vinyl record spinning as its background image. It’s as if they are trying to communicate that if you aren’t a hipster with a brand new MacBook Pro that your computer will be incapable of running the site, and that you also shouldn’t be interested in creating a profile in the first place. The login screen alone is giving my computer trouble, and my computer is a custom gaming rig.
Looking past the login screen, I checked out the demo video and was again not very impressed. Its setup reminded me a lot of FaceBook’s timeline, except with a cheesy and cumbersome sideways scrolling theme from Tumblr applied to it. The sideways scrolling, mixed in with HD video and transparency on everything, make the site look unattractive to me. Myspace going to need a lot more than Justin Timberlake to sell me this new site.
On a positive note, the developers will be bringing back a lot of the cool features that we remember from older versions of MySpace. The ability to change your background image, set a profile song and select a top eight friends will return. I doubt that features like those will keep my attention or the attention of my peers for very long.
Although I have had a lot of negative things to say about the new MySpace, I don’t think it will be a total failure. I honestly don’t believe that the developers are intending for this new site to take facebook’s place, they are a lot smarter than that. Instead, if I were a site like Pinterest or Tumblr I would be a little worried. They seem to be coming straight for the demographic that likes to express themselves through art, music and highly customizable profiles.
That being said, I will not ignore the new MySpace. When it launches, I will create a profile, customize it, friend a few cool people and wait for the rest of my friends to start using it. That’s the same thing I did when Google+ launched.
-‑ Matthew Winfield
It’s time to study hard. This week is the roughest week at Quincy University of the semester: final examinations. It’s a week of second-guessing everything you know you learned and taking tests that would make a statue blush. It’s also a week where the faculty and leadership of the school give a little bit back to the students.
I took a break from studying for my algebra and Cold War course finals for an hour of relaxation and a special event that happens every semester: Cram Jam. I know, it sounds odd to say that it is important to take a break from the things that grind the brain down with stress every now and then, but this is one case where I think it is.
Cram Jam is an event designed to ease student stress. Massages and paraffin treatments, a guy who makes balloon animals, Christmas music and pictures with Santa Claus are all included. The best part by far is that I was able to eat dinner with Quincy University President Robert Gervasi, and this time he was the one cooking and serving the meal.
Think about that bizarre paradox. I am a student: one of many amassed at this fine school. My grades are great, but I am not the most active student on campus. Heck, I don’t even live on campus. All the same, the president of the school took time out of his night and undoubtedly more important projects to throw on an apron and cook pancakes for the student body. After the food is all handed out, he takes even more time walk around, eat with students, talk to students and laugh. This is the thing we need most at this stressful time.
Does your college student attend a school where the leadership takes that kind of interest in him or her? If not, it is time to transfer back home to Quincy University. I have never worked anywhere or gone to school at any institution where the president is willing to get “hands on” at any task outside of his office. This place sure is different, and in good way.
Dr. Gervasi knows my name. He asks me how I am doing when I see him, and he makes some fine pancakes, too. That kind of personal service from the top down is what every college student should experience. I think students going to massive public schools are losing out in a big way.
Well, I suppose I had better get back to the grindstone for a few more hours. Wish me luck out there. I will need all I can get for the algebra test.
With December well under way, many of us will be attending, hosting or helping organize our own holiday parties for coworkers, friends or family. The office holiday party can be the trickiest situation for many because it mixes the daytime etiquette we all live by with a more relaxed social environment. To help you make the most of this opportunity, here are some tips.
This is a business function and it is essential that you use professional behavior. Dress may be more casual than at the office but that doesn’t mean it needs to the same as your weekend bar hopping favorites. Enjoy a drink or two if available and acceptable, but draw the line there. Becoming intoxicated will not make a good lasting impression on your office. Dancing on the tables is also not such a great way for the boss to remember you when you are negotiating a raise in the new year. With everyone’s smart phones instantly accessible, it may also go viral on YouTube.
Don’t whine about your boss, denigrate the company or talk about your work frustrations. Be positive. If work isn’t going well, focus on the positive attributes of your coworkers. Tell an amusing antidote about your life outside the office. Introduce your guest so your coworkers can learn more about the people you talk about at work.
Your attendance is a good way to show your dedication to your company as well. These events are often planned as relationship building and it may affect your ability to move ahead later. Have a good time. With the state of the economy, this is may be the only Christmas gift you will receive this year. Enjoy the good food, evening out, and festivities!
So how about the water around Quincy these days? I am sure the City of Quincy people will fix it up. No worries there. This article is an appeal to all of you who out there with kids in college. This week is the last week of classes for most schools around the country, and next week means examinations.
If you have kids out there at some close-by or far-away school, why not send them a small gift package of stuff that will help them with these brutal test? Foods that are high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids actually help the body retain information and stay strong for the long nights of studying for exams.
Don’t send caffeine or stimulants. Those are bad for you, especially with tests. Instead, prepare a nice bed for your college student to crash on when he or she gets home. Despite all the warnings about how unhealthy and counterproductive it is to stay up all night studying, tens of thousands of college students still do it. If your student is one of them, provide a place to sleep. This enables the mind and body to rest and download all the information they have been trying to cram in over the past few weeks before they came home.
If you want one more thing you can do, send them some music to study by. Everybody here at QU studies with headphones in, so it must be a popular trend. I personally listen to rap music when I study hard. I would also recommend an album called “The Big Come Up” by the Black Keys. My friend Olivia turned me on to these guys and this fantastic album a week or so ago. Think Buddy Guy if you like blues music, but amp the guitar up just a tad. Find out what your college student likes in music and get it, or just give them an iTunes gift card or something.
If they call you before the exams, wish them good luck and give a boost of confidence, then tell them to sleep the night before. The hard reality is, if any student takes good notes, pays attention, and plans in advance of the test at all, they know the material, but might just need a little confidence boost.
Most of my friends will tell you I try my hardest to throw out compliments every time I see them, and encourage their confidence. I am the first to admit this: I hang out with smart people. Why? Because they are smart! I don’t feel my I.Q. fall when I talk to my friends, and that is very important. I know what they are capable of and have no problem telling them so.
Heck, wish us all luck.
— Greg Carter
No matter where you are during this holiday season, you will most likely be greeted by the sounds of the season. From traditional hymns to “Rockin’ ‘Round the Christmas Tree,” there is a song for every musical taste.
In our office, one of my dear podmates started her music the week of Thanksgiving. Are you a Christmas music enthusiast or does it make you feel a little a Grinchy? By the end of December, lots of people start to feel burned out by the overplayed tunes. Others would play these songs yearlong. It can bring us together, remind us of great memories or just get us in the holiday spirit while we wrap some presents for under the tree.
Stores often play seasonal music to help us buy a little more for our celebrations. Some people even broadcast their own music and time their lights to go with the music. Christmas music is created by almost every popular musical act and featured in TV specials. Every generation gives the traditional songs their own twist. A quick search for your favorite tune is sure to bring musicians from country to classic to rap. It is even a great gift idea.
For me, the most beautiful and meaningful music of the season is played on Christmas Eve in churches around our area. It is not about the most beautiful choir, on pitch singers, or dramatic instrumental accompaniment. It is the hopeful and joyful spirits who join in the traditional hymns like “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger.” I love sitting next to my family and sharing a candlelit service together.
— Katie O’Neal
This is one tough week. As I gear up and get ready to take six final exams next week, I can’t help but be distracted. It was 71 degrees out when I woke up this morning. I get to wear shorts in December; something I thought was only possible if you lived on the Gulf Coast or the Mississippi Delta.
This week means a whole lot of getting ready, or as they say down south, “fixing to” do things. I have to turn in eight major writing projects, prep for finals and pack for the school trip to Washington, D.C. I also have lines to recite and practice for Quincy’s annual Knights Templar inspection next month. All I really want to do is grab some Fatback’s brisket and head down to the park. Terribly distracting weather, this is.
This is sort of a sad week, too. This Friday I take my last class forever with Professor Terry Riddell, who is probably the best English teacher I have had since Mrs. Grace, way back in fifth grade. Since I have completed all of my English requirements and then some, it is time to say goodbye and concentrate on heavy-grade history projects and student teaching.
Somehow, however, I think I will make it through. With yet another tough semester coming to a rapid end, several of the best classes I have ever taken now behind me forever and all my friends talking about “going home” for Christmas, I know I can see this through. After all, it is December and I have Christmas cards to mail.
Between the fog and the warm weather, I think this might be some kind of payback for the monsoon season that was virtually the entire fall season. I can’t urge everyone in the Quincy area enough to get out and enjoy these next several days of good weather. The best cure for winter blues, they say, is sunny and warm weather, and here we have it. I hope I see a million motorcycles on the road in the next few days, and bring out the restored hotrods, too!
Once these good days are over, remember that it really is December, and there are stockings to be hung and trees to decorate. Bring out the ornaments, wreaths and lots of Perry Como music! For the moment, however, let’s all get outside and enjoy ourselves.
– Greg Carter
The holidays are always full of traditions that make them so special. I would love to hear from all of you on your traditions, too!
Christmas treats are one of my favorite parts of the holidays. From cookies to candies to special side dishes that only make an appearance on Christmas Day or Eve, the calories add up just as quickly as the smiles. One fun way to share your recipes and favorites, while also dividing up the work, is to host a cookie exchange. Invite your friends over and ask each friend to bring one or two recipes of their favorite treats along with all the ingredients to make them. Spend an afternoon cooking up all your favorites. Then divide up all the cookies so each person is able to take home a few of each recipe. They make wonderful gifts in cute tins, bags, or baskets. If you are feeling really crafty, roll over to Pinterest for all sorts of brilliant packing and wrapping ideas.
In our family, there are some standby recipes every year. My mom makes fudge that is positively to die for, not to mention her peanut clusters. Grandma Betty’s caramel corn is best enjoyed with a 7-Up and watching “Home Alone.” Little Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies are legendary in Quincy, for all who eat them are instantly addicted for life. Our friend, Marry, makes the sugar cookies below. They melt in your mouth — literally. I can eat a dozen without pausing for a breath. They are great fun to decorate with little hands.
Roll Out Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Blend all together except the flour until it is smooth and creamy. Add flour and mix until combined. Handle the dough as little as possible and gently.
Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight so it will handle better and absorb less flour as you roll it out.
Divide dough into 3-4 portions. Roll out on a lightly floured board to 1/2″ thick. Cut out into desired shapes (my favorites are dinosaurs and ninjas). Bake at 375 degrees for 6 minutes.
water added until you get your desired consistency
You can add food coloring, sprinkles and red hots to decorate your tasty treats.
Oh! Gotta run — that is my timer going off!
— Katie O’Neal
I attended two dinners over Thanksgiving weekend, and one was a real eye-opener. I had my friend Ethan over for the traditional “stuff yourself silly” dinner on Thursday, then on Friday my fiancée and I stopped over at the home of the Quincy University friars and had a rare treat. We had dinner with Brother Terry Santiapillai.
We had been planning this dinner for several months to satisfy our mutual “bizarre foods” craving. Brother Terry is originally from the island nation of Sri Lanka, located off the coast of India. One day I walked up and asked him if he knew how to prepare Indian food, and he matter-of-factly said he did. It was wonderful. This was my first time eating Indian cuisine and I have to say that Quincy desperately needs an Indian restaurant.
The point, however, was not lost on me. I wanted something different, and all I had to do was ask. That is the nice thing about Quincy, but something people who move here don’t readily know. If you need something here, you just have to ask somebody. It is easy enough to drive along Broadway and get a solid feel of where you can shop and what is available, but that view doesn’t begin to cover the layers of things at your fingertips here. You can certainly look in the phonebook, but that doesn’t really help either.
You really need human contact. When I needed to find the right gift for my fiancee’s birthday, all I had to do was ask the ladies down at Premier Diva. They educated me, provided examples and gave suggestions where to find products they did not have in their store. If you can’t find what you are looking for at Hy-Vee, ask the clerk that always wears a bowtie and biker gloves. Not only is he a riot to talk to, he knows the Harrison store down to the inch. Need the right fertilizer for your garden project? Go see my friend Randy over at Keller & Sons. Need an event calendar or a map? Stop by the visitor center on Gardner Expressway. The wonderful staff there will set you up with all you need, just as they did for me 18 months ago.
I know these are only a few examples, but there is simply not enough space to write down what is available here in Quincy. All you have to do is pony up the courage and ask. You never know the valuable contact or new friend you might gain, and the information you will miss can’t be calculated.
As you contemplate New Year resolutions over the next month, put that one on the list. Make it a solid resolution to go someplace in Quincy and ask for something. Just ask for one thing, one time, and a whole new world might unfold before you.
— Greg Carter