A lightning update – trips to MI and NC; continuing this most recent degree

So: the year has certainly been a whirlwind, as I tend to do to myself with my own choices about scheduling. But I have done better with trying to do less in total; and, failing that, I am giving a much higher time share to having fun and enjoying myself.

And this set of changes has been awesome, for reasons including…

The First of Four Visits to Hahvahd.

The second week of September, I did officially get into Harvard’s Master of Management program (anyone can take any course through the Extension School; but you have to pass certain courses at a high level and then get through the application process). Which was exciting in its own way… but especially edifying because the weekend immediately afterwards I went to Cambridge in person for course. This semester has actually been one of the best courses I have ever taken – Sustainable Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. The course material is right up my alley; the professor is a practitioner who came to the academy unexpectedly as an expert; and the course is filled with people who come from a variety of skillsets and backgrounds who want to learn real skills about helping the world waste less (money, water, power, resources, time). Very little pontificating by people who have no idea what they’re talking about; very little time wasted at all because everyone loves learning from the lived experience of the professor. What a treat – and I got the chance to go in person and experience 2 full days of this, in a new and interesting place!

In short: if you’re interested in this sort of thing, go read about the Toyota Manufacturing miracle and how they have been able to build such low cost cars at such high levels of quality for years now. They had no sustainability for the environment as their core focus; but instead their unceasing insistence on helping the company grow and also the communities in which Toyota is located, they have zeroed in on waste in amazing ways over decades. So good.

Another Lovely Visit to Ann Arbor (And Detroit. And Frankenmuth)

Thankful to my friends Chris and Liz for their continuing Ann Arbor-based hospitality. Especially exciting – my old friends JJ, Greg, Steve, and Milla also all ended up being in MI for the weekend! We had a whole bunch of laughs; checked out a surprisingly vibrant outdoor/indoor market in downtown Detroit, including a pretty slick little hydroponics shop:

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

The primary hydroponics store supplying the growing number of urban farmers in Detroit

We also had to hit the unreasonably delicious Green Dot Stables (as we have, every time I’ve visited there), and we managed to do the usual – go there hungry, end up waiting a REALLY long time for one of the few tables in the place, and then being stupidly hungry by the time the delicious, delicious sliders and drinks started hitting our table… and disappearing into our hungry faces:

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

One of my favorite restaurants ever, in a bad part of Detroit

Sunday saw a trip to Frankenmuth, a surprisingly strongly Bavarian outpost in the middle of Michigan. After a few hours trip with great conversation (and for me, great knee pain from being too tall for my slick little Cruze – more on this in a subsequent post), we arrived and had a delicious feast of a lunch. We then walked around the town a bit, eventually hitting the famous clock shop in the town:

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

The coolest clock in the famous clock shop of Frankenmuth, MI

On our way out of the area and back to Ann Arbor, we hit a place with billboards as far as away as east of Toledo Ohio – Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland. The title ought to imply a certain religious intention behind this store/mega-warehouse of Christmas cheer. And that is genuinely good, that the folks behind the business have convictions and try to support them in the running of their enterprise.

That said: this place was unsettlingly overpowering in its ~~CHRISTMAS OVERLOAD~~ and breathtaking consumerism of EVERY imaginable sort of Christmas ornament on shelves by type and size and color and sub-type, waiting for you to buy it. Celebrating something important to you – an important thing as well. I just am not sure how the materialistic focus of this cavernous warehouse of iniquity – which is sort of what it felt like to me, at least – is really able to square up against the theology of the Christmas story.

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

JJ in front of the idolatry hive/Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland

But nevertheless – a great fun weekend with old friends from DC, a lot of laughing until crying, and delicious food to an uncomfortable degree. Perfect!

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Switching gears, to the four day weekend after MI, I then had the distinct pleasure of…

An Amazing Weekend in the Appalachians, in western North Carolina

I had a four day weekend due to using some of my scant remaining vacation time for 2016; a plane ticket to and from Charlotte NC via Southwest; and a small carry-on. I was ready for a visit to my friend Amber (met during my time at Yale).

And what a weekend it was – easily the peak weekend for the leaves changing up in the mountains of western North Carolina, we were consistently finding our breath taken away by the natural beauty issuing forth around us.

One of the famous shots from "Last of the Mohicans" was filmed here

One of the famous shots from “Last of the Mohicans” was filmed here

We got to drive through the mountains and along several portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway – a place which very much reminded me of the amazing experience of the Rocky Mountain’s scenic byway from my trip to Colorado back in August!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls - at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

The gorgeous overlook of a small set of falls – at which the Cherokee used to push off captives to their death. Also, good photo op!

We also had the distinct pleasure of hiking many places with Amber’s dog Roxy, a black lab (mixed with something else, not sure what) and all the people fawning over the adorable small dog made us feel like mere adjutants to the dog’s celebrity. But somehow, even though I genuinely really don’t care for dogs, Roxy felt right as a portion of the hiking experience.

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

Amber and I with her dog Roxy

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

The absurd beauty of the Appalachians cannot be overstated.

Amber’s parents and brother were both very gracious in opening their homes to me as I was a guest in their native mountains – and helped make a supremely relaxing weekend even better by their kind hospitality.

UGH almost too beautiful

UGH almost too beautiful

The photos I have taken and posted here were all done with my phone – they do not do the raw beauty of nature justice. As part of the “ACTUALLY relax on this trip” mindset I went in with, I decided to leave the camera & lenses behind in favor of simplified packing and just soaking in the views with my own two eyes. So forgive the lack of show-grade photos here – but rejoice with me for having tried to do something out of my character and just live in the moment(s)!

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

The glories of the mountains in the fall.

It was, as you might expect, very difficult to depart such a relaxing and gorgeous place, spending time with an old friend and her lovely family, enjoying good food and generally not worrying about anything. But I cherish the time spent away from it all, and I look forward to future trips like this going forward!