Friday, April 27, 2012

When giving is truely rewarding!

During the our time in Indianapolis, I cleaned out my closet.  Gone are all the suits, sports coats, dress shirts, and pants which were out sized.  Besides, I am retired and have no use for the above, and especially no use for 60 plus ties.  I have worn one only once in the last year.  Liz followed suit and eliminated two items from her wardrobe. (She had donated most of her work clothes before we left Raleigh.)

Finding a home for 50% of my ties was easy.  Brendan had first right of refusal he took approximately 30 of them.

Finding a home for Liz's clothes was easy.  A short walk away was Dress for Success, a non-profit which specializes in providing suitable women's attire for job interviews.  While there we asked if there was a similar organization for men.  They suggested Danny's Closet.

I made an appointment to deliver my five bags of clothing to St Vincent Danny's Closet of Hope.  Danny's Closet of Hope is associated with St. Vincent in Indianapolis.  I met Rick Williams at their offices: 9101 Wesleyan Road, Suite 101, Indianapolis, IN.  He kindly accepted my contribution and offered to show us their facilities.  We learned their clientele are: returning solders from recent wars, veterans of all ages, ex-offenders, and unemployed men in need of good quality interview cloths.  The men have passed through various job training agencies before being referred to Danny's Closet of Hope.

My contribution

We entered a dressing area, which opened up into a large showroom of neatly arranged, and displayed suits, dress shirts, dress shoes, socks, and ties.  It was set up just like an upscale men's store.  I can just image how Danny's Closet of Hope clientele must feel upon entering this room.

The Entry Area

Rich Williams in the showroom.
On the reverse side of their brochure I found the following:

As a member of Ascension Health and St. Vincent Health, we are called to:

Service of the Poor
Generosity of spirit for persons most in need.

Respect and compassion for the dignity and diversity of life.

Inspiring trust through personal leadership.

Integrating excellence and stewardship.

Courageous innovation.

Affirming the hope and joy of our ministry.

So from what I saw, I can recommend you add St. Vincent Danny's Closet of Hope to your list of charities. They are in need of good men's interview clothing, and financial donations (for purchase of hard to find sizes, and alteration services).  Tax-deductable donations can be sent to the following address:

St. Vincent Danny's Closet of Hope
9101 Wesleyan Rd. Suite 101
Indianapolis, IN 46268

If you do not live in central Indiana, then please find a similar organization in your community, city, or country.  They will need your help, and their clientele will appreciated your assistance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bits of Americana

This trip has reminded us that going back to an area allows us to revisit favorite places and discover new ones without fitting in the "must sees."

Breakfast - When we breakfast at a local spot we soak up a community's aura. At Cliff's Boathouse Cafe in Racine, Wisconsin we devoured the thin, crispy, and amazing potato pancakes, were mesmerized by Brewer (baseball) memorabilia, and watched each table fill up as lunch time approached. Many costumers were greeted by name, grabbed a menu, and found a seat. This is our 3rd visit to Cliff's - one can't have the potato pancakes too often.

Better than Bankers' Hours. Closed during Spring Training

Breakfast at Cliff's

We left Rochester, NY early in the morning to avoid the lines at Food at Fisher's Station. Its ambiance and hours are similar to Cliff's. I skipped the pancakes and other highly rated indulgences for soft scrambled eggs and toast. They were perfect. If lived near to a similar restaurant so I would eat there several days a week - both for the fresh, well cooked food and to just hang out.

Starbucks in Carmel, IN at 9:30 a.m.

We spent one morning in an Indianapolis Starbucks. It was large and crowded - a sort of unhome home office. Friends were visiting, people were working, jobs interviews and sales pitches were being conducted, and a knitting group met. Not as cozy as Cliff's or Fisher's Station and the diners were less focused on eating, but clearly a part of its community - a  strip mall and office complex.


Our neighborhood Starbucks (while the cafe is being renovated)

Food: We cannot go to Rochester without stopping in Wegmans supermarket in Pittsford, NY. Fresh produce is displayed with labels indicating when it will be ready to eat. Staff at the meat, fish, and cheese counters can suggest what to buy, tell you how to prepare it, and what wine to use. There are separate islands for take out (or eat in the grocery store) soup, salad, and hot foods. Each food is labeled with its calorie count and other nutritional information. Wegmans appears on lists of America’s best employers and it shows. Employees are friendly and helpful.
                                        Wegmans Pittsford - fresh produce section (March 2012)

                                                                    SE Asian Fruit - Expensive and hard, but no ants

In Racine we headed to O & H Danish Bakery to buy a kringle. The assortment of kringles, cakes, donuts, cookies, and bread made it impossible to buy just one kringle. I suggested that we have the kringle for tea. Sandhya and Arvind are from India and know how to serve tea – it is more than just a kringle and tea.

                                                Afternoon tea with Arvind & Sandhya - kringle is at bottom left

At Indianapolis, Indiana Winter Farmers’ Market we discovered awesome toffee. In addition to the toffee and nut candies Litterally Divine Toffees had toffee and nut crumbles. The decided that the crumbles would last longer than candy pieces that can disappear quickly. Or so I thought. Sandhya hid the crumbles from Arvind in fear that he would devour the bottle in no time. Both O & H Danish and Litterally Divine ship – I hope that I can remember when the winter holidays come around.

Gifts from the 400 block of Massachusetts Avenue (Indy): This stretch of Massachusetts Avenue near our house has several mall shops. It is hard to just drop in any one of them and browse. Global Gifts has an attractive display of fair trade items from around the world. In addition to the familiar jewelry, pottery, and baskets there were items made by women from  Calcutta from old saris. We couldn’t resist a rat shaped cheese slicer.

                                                          Rat/Cheese Slicer (born in India)

As new grandparents Mass Ave Toys drew us in.  It had toys for all ages of children at prices grandparents could afford (as opposed to prices that only grandparents can afford). Our final gift was the sign on the Old Point Tavern. Smoking in Indiana restaurants has ended, but not smoking. We were surprised by the  many clusters of smokers in front of downtown buildings.

Tracing a building's history wit a glance - chiseled over the door is "Sears, Roebuck and Company), the awnings say O'Malias, and the sign say Marshes - the current owner/occupant.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Visit to our "first" home (USA)

Our "Malaysian My 2nd Home " visa (MM2H) implies we have a first home. In the US our legal/voting residence is in North Carolina, our mailing address is in Indiana, and our condo (different from our mailing address) is in Indiana.  Where is home? Kuala Lumpur, but in the spirit of MM2H we plan to spend several weeks in the US each year.

Before leaving KL for our first trip back we contacted family and friends, identified times to visit that didn't conflict with their work, and investigated public transportation. Public transit saves money, avoids long drives (we are out of practice) with unpredictable gas prices. We flew Singapore Airlines (great entertainment system and seriously hard seats) to JFK via Frankfort, flew to Rochester, NY, took Amtrak to Washington, D.C., rented a car and drove to Pennsylvania and Delaware and returned to D.C., took Amtrak to Raleigh and Charlotte, and flew to Indianapolis where we are now.

What have we observed about traveling in the US?  Immigration and customs at JFK were very professional.  There was no yelling or raised voices (a vast improvement from the past). TSA is still annoying. While they didn't yell at people in line, we were told "no peanut butter, no yogurt," shoes still come off, and the laptop had to be out of its case.  The lines were long (45 minutes) and unorganized. When we departed Charlotte, NC, TSA inspected our checked bags, unlocked the suitcases, didn't bother to put the locks back on, and scrambled the contents of the suitcases.  Extremely annoying having seen German security carefully repack suitcases and assist people putting on their coats.  Maybe TSA needs to take a trip overseas or hire German security consultants.  Amtrak was more relaxed and the trains had wifi and arrived on time. We hadn't driven for the past year - so no problem with driving on the "right side" of the road. On the other hand the drive from Philadelphia airport (where we were staying) and the University of Pennsylvania was terrifying, cars entered the highway and passing from both sides.

RR Station Rochester - 8 a.m.

Penn Station (NYC) 5:00 p.m.
Between visits with friends we dropped in at local events. First we went with a friend to her recorder group's performance for a class of 4th graders. The contra-bass recorder (pictured at the left) was a crowed pleaser. Most questions were directed to its owner  - how much did it (the contra-recorder) cost? How do you clean it? Other questions directed to the entire group included - How much do you practice? When did you start learning to play the recorder?

After the performance we hurried to the Library of Congress for a panel discussion on Women Veterans of the Persian Gulf War. Along the way we passed pro-health care protesters leaving from a protest at the Supreme Court. At the Supreme Court we were in time to walk through an anti-health care protest. By the time we reached the Library of Congress we had missed most of the panel discussion. At the Q & A session we learned that despite the political rhetoric women are assigned to combat units. Women are needed to question and interact with village women. As we left the library school groups arrived so we skipped touring the building, one of my favorite spots in Washington.
Protest in front of the Supreme Court

Springtime on Capitol Hill

In Raleigh we combined business with pleasure. To catch up with some NCSU colleagues we went to a presentation at the Institute of Nonprofits on the NC Museum of Art's branding and marketing activities in connection with the opening of a new building. The theme, "It is not about the building,"  was that the mission, values, and logo should emphasize the public's connection to the museum.  My first thought was that emotional connection to buildings can't be ignored, for example,the Library of Congress and the US Supreme Court. On the other hand I never think of the building in connection with art galleries, such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum. One  panelist noted that some people commented that they weren't sure what to wear when visiting a museum.  This observation resonated as I thought of other occasions where people don't want to expose their ignorance - taking public transportation for the first time or in an unfamiliar city, voting, going to an arts performance (think of the poor soul who claps in after the first movement of a symphony).  And we have seen people mystified by escalators and revolving doors.

To remind ourselves how captivating springtime in Raleigh we went to the Raulston Arboretum. As we strolled through the gardens a woman asked us if we knew where a renewal of vows being held. She wasn't keen on wander around in her 6 inch heels. When I spotted the shoes I recalled "Mommy's Sky High Heels," a 2011 KL Short & Sweet play where a daughter encouraged her mother to wear stilettos and become modern and sophisticated

Spring Flowers at J.C. Raulston Arboretum, North Carolina State University

In Charlotte we visited the Bechtler Museum which housed modern art collected by the Bechtler family. My favorite was Max Ernst's "Projet pour un monument W.C. Fields" (in lower left hand corner). The Bechtler is a small museum with a well arranged collection.

                                                      The Fire Bird (in front of the Bechtler Museum, Charlotte)

On returning to US - logistics and culture shock:
Communications - since we would be in our condo for three weeks we had to decide how to handle the TV and Internet.  In Rochester we changed our T-Mobile phones from a postpaid plan to a prepaid plan (1000 minutes for $100 and one year service).  Perfect for us.  For the TV we bought an indoor antenna. So we get the standard channels but must move the antenna around the room to get all the channels. Since we were used to Malaysia's TV schedule, we have watched very little. For Internet we got T-Mobile myfi prepaid set up on a month to month contract. Doug initially found what he wanted on WalMart's website, but when he went to a local WalMart that had the unit he found it was $50 higher. The store's price was higher and it would not sell it to him for the web price. He could order it over the web and have it sent to the store, but that would take 7 days - too long for us. So he settled on T-Mobile available at Best Buy at a higher price. He told them the WalMart story and the unit was sold to him at the WalMart web price and then gave us a $30 prepaid card. So kiddos to Best Buy. The unit has worked perfectly.

Taxes - we should have returned after 15 April, we would have gotten an automatic extension on our filing date. Most of our tax information was sent to our mailing address so couldn't do in KL and only had a few days to work on our return in Indianapolis

Culture Shock -
Costs - we are charged for both outgoing and incoming calls, instead of just outgoing and for the most part we can call folks in the US cheaper from Malaysia. 

Directions - still easy to look the wrong way and get into a car on the wrong side, but most unexpected heading for the wrong side of automatic doors.

Driving - the further South, at least down to Raleigh, the worse the drivers are. Indianapolis has great drivers - patient, don't run red lights, leave a decent space between cars, and I could go on.

TV - We don't see ads for prescription drugs in Malaysia. but here in the US we are bombarded by car ads, drug ads, and political ads.  The sheer number of ads is almost overwhelming.  I almost prefer watching US tv shows several months late, but get to skip the ads without pushing the skip button on TIVO or the DVR.

Noise - Asia is quiet, very few sirens, no horns honking, no yelling by officials in airports.  We miss the quiet.