Entertaining Yourself with your own happy thoughts


How to Pass the Time While Stuck in L.A. Traffic

                              Photo from LA Traffic Cam

Los Angeles is known, no—fabled, no—downright notorious for its horrible, mind-numbing traffic. In fact, it’s estimated that Los Angeles County residents spend about 4 days a year (or, oof, 96 hours) in their cars.

So what’s an Angelino to do with all that time? Here are some ways I’ve come up to pass the hours you spend getting from here to there in L.A.:


1.  Rock out to KCRW. KCRW is Los Angeles’ public radio, indy rock station, with a heavy dose of NPR-sponsored news and programming. Turn that dial to 89.9 FM and enjoy new bands, the latest news, and helpful traffic updates. Plus, with frequent free giveaways for members in venues all around the city, it’s a great introduction to some interesting music hotspots around town. Bonus: For you smartphone users, they have a great app, too!



2.  Roll down your windows and let the sunshine in. Hey, you’re in California, remember? Chances are the weather is a balmy 82 degrees and sunny, so breathe in those exhaust fumes and enjoy that sunshine. Just don’t forget to sunscreen up or you’ll soon be sporting a super attractive, left-armed trucker’s tan.

Hitting some of that famous L.A. traffic

This image from PD Photo.org has been released into the public domain by its author and copyright holder, Jon Sullivan


3.  Count out-of-state license plates. One of the first things anyone will ask you at a party in L.A. is “So, where are you from?” It’s a widely known fact that no one is from Los Angeles, we all just move here trying to make it big (or cry trying). In particular, you’ll see a large number of out-of-state plates driven by young dreamers like myself. And just so you know, a thumbs-up of encouragement is always appreciated, even after we’ve accidentally cut you off in a left-turn-only lane—quit honking, we’re from outta town, after all!



4.  Eat. I’ve become a huge proponent of stocking my car with snacks, like cereal bars, trail mix, that sort of thing, since you never know if you’ll get stuck in a jam on the freeway. Bonus points if you’re wise enough to stop at In ‘N’ Out for a burger animal-style before you head out into the rush.


5.  Practice defensive driving. Check your blind spot, increase your following distance, signal excessively…and be prepared to get hit despite it all. You’re in traffic for an entire four days a year; chances are you’ll be involved in a fender-bender at some point down the line. On that note, you may want to consider dropping a bit more on insurance than you might in another city; it might be worth it.


6.  Learn a new language. Check out an audiobook at the library and practice your nouns while you stop and go (that’s “parada” and “ir” in Spanish, folks). Look for an audiobook that emphasizes conversational language skills, so there’s not too much book work that goes along with it.

7.  Be a trailblazer: Take public transit. Despite its reputation to the contrary, L.A. does have a growing public transportation system (with a subway! Who knew!). It’s particularly useful if you’re heading to Hollywood or downtown. And for those of you out late at night, all trains and the Orange Line are now running until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays!

Final note: Believe it or not – and despite what you may see to the contrary, one thing you shouldn’t be doing while driving is talking on your cell phone – unless it’s on speakerphone or you have a headset or Bluetooth. California has a strictly enforced cell phone law and cops will pull you over and slap you with a hefty fine (well – hefty for someone like me who’s on a budget!). Texting is also illegal, so when you desperately need to tweet about having just seen Justin Bieber coming out of a Starbucks in West Hollywood, just pull over okay?


Self-portraits: Only a good idea as a passenger




Filmmakers’ Dreams Come True

Filmmakers Martin Mudry and Alex Nichols’ Dream of Festival Screening  was realized this month.  On the heels of the documentary’s World Premier at the LUMS International Film Festival in Lahore, Pakistan held February 10 – 12, the filmmakers received more big news this week: Where Dreams Don’t Fade will be screening at the 36th Cleveland International Film Festival in March.

Martin Mudry in Hollywood

This is big news for EntertainingYourself.com because Martin is also one of our beloved contributors!

We would like to extend our Congratulations to both of these filmmakers, along with its stars, Robert Kigen, Alexander Mneria and Virginia Rono, on this major milestone!

Read on to see the announcement  in the Cleveland International Film Festival Program:


Where Dreams Don’t Fade

Martin Mudry
Alex Nichols
Run Time: 76 minutes

Country: USA, KENYA

Year: 2012

Since 1968 Kenya has won 21 Olympic gold medals in long distance running compared to the U.S.’s three medals. While the rest of the world knows the African region gives birth to some of the best long distance runners on the planet, the true story of how each person gets to the big stage remains hidden. WHERE DREAMS DON’T FADE is an intimate portrait into the trials and tribulations of the men and women who dream of a better life through running. Following three runners, this documentary provides insight into a part of the world where everyone shares the same dream, but the only escape is through hard work, determination, and a little bit of luck. Virginia is relatively new to running and she trains as she searches for a job; Alex was recruited into the army that trained him; and Robert is battling back from injuries hoping to hang on to the last chance he may have. The amount of perseverance, dedication, and discipline is inspiring and one can’t help but root for these runners as they chase their dreams in a place where dreams are all they have. (In English, Swahili, and Kalenjin with subtitles) –T.W.


tickets and showtimes

Tuesday, March 27 separator 8:45 PM
Wednesday, March 28 separator 5:45 PM
Thursday, March 29 separator 12:05 PM
Sidebars Standing Up CompetitionPan-African ImagesLocal Heroes
Producer Alex Nichols, Martin Mudry
Screenplay Alex Nichols, Martin Mudry
Cinematography Alex Nichols, Martin Mudry
Editing Alex Nichols, Martin Mudry
Principal Cast Alexander Mneria, Robert Kigen, Virginia Rono
Director Bio Alex Nichols is a Minnesota native who studied English and film studies before graduating from Colorado College in Colorado Springs in 2007. While there he ran varsity cross country and track, wherein he met fellow filmmaker and runner Martin Mudry.A native of Cleveland Heights, Martin Mudry studied at University School in Shaker Heights and Colorado College in Colorado Springs before finishing his tenure at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he studied filmmaking and graduated with a degree in Psychology.
Select Filmography WHERE DREAMS DON’T FADE (2012)
Print Source Where Dreams Don’t Fade
Martin Mudry

Filmmakers Dream of Festival Screening


2/13/12 – WHERE DREAMS DON’T FADE made it’s world premier debut this past weekend at the LUMS International Film Festival in Pakistan.  Say tuned for more updates about worldwide showings!  Next announcement coming soon….

Last July we checked in with Alex Nichols and Martin Mudry in East Africa, where they were interviewing and filmingKenyan runners for a documentary.

This week the pair got word that the Penine Film Festival in England will consider their entry, Where Dreams Don’t Fade.

After months of shooting in the Kenyan highlands, editing footage in Colorado Springs and finally shipping off a completed documentary, the onetime cross-country teammates have all but crossed the finish line for their project; they’re just not sure where they’ve placed.

Filmaker Martin Mudry in Kenya

Now it’s a matter of waiting to see if their work will be accepted–to Penine or any of the 20 other festivals, mostly in major American cities, to which they applied.
“If we get in, it’s a really exciting stage to move into,” Mudry said of the submission process. “At the same time it’s nerve racking because you’re putting yourself out there.”

The story Mudry and Nichols have staked their cinematic hopes to is one of three Kenyan athletes–a woman and two men–who train, work and sacrifice in the rural town of Iten, where they pursue running dreams of one shape or another.

The American filmmakers hope their portrayal of the nation outside the context of a disaster or an aid mission, and Kenyans as individuals, not endurance machines, will hook viewers.

Filmaker Alex Nichols on location in Kenya

“I think [the film] does a lot of good in breaking down stereotypes of Africa and African runners,” Nichols said. “Even if it’s not what people expect, it’s a fairly good representation of what’s going on and hopefully they’ll realize what we’re showing them is honest.”

For their part, Nichols, whose making his second feature-length documentary, and Mudry, his first, are adjusting to life without scenes to frame or audio to edit.

“One year ago Alex and I were talking to see if we were actually doing it,” Mudry said. “Now we’re virtually done. That’s pretty amazing.”

Even with the anticipation of waiting to hear from festivals, they’ve been able to reflect on the project as a whole. “It’s good to watch it at this point and see how entertaining it is,” Nichols said. “There are still things I wish we could make better, but it’s just not going to happen because there’s only so much filming you can do.”

Mudry and Nichols have also kept in touch with the subjects of their documentary, who’ve led eventful lives since filming ended. The men, Robert Kigen and Alex Mneria, battled injuries and spent time on army bases as the Kenyan army made incursions into Somalia.  The woman, Virginia Rono, has continued working at a new job and has entered a few races.

Robert Kigen studies his X-ray

Alex Mneria stretches after his run

Virginia Rono pursuing the dream

“We’ve told them they can’t officially quit running until the film is released,” Mudry joked.

That could be sooner rather than later. Nichols and Martin expect to hear back from the early festivals by mid-January.

Will Kennedy


And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out these recent stories by Will Kennedy on EntertainingYourself.com

In defense of the family road trip:

I survived Dog Sledding in Mongolia 

EY Travel Tips: Scotland





In defense of the family road trip:

Like many moody teenagers, I dreamt of suing my parents, but never more than after our first family road trip. I imagined bringing my mom and dad to the courthouse of public opinion in my mind, but I thought, why stop there? Why not sue my two sisters and make it a clean sweep? Maybe, just maybe, I could prevent these people from ruining any more lives.

This is my story. The story of the worst, most humiliating two weeks of my life. I’d change the names, but it would only protect the guilty.


William Kennedy: Your honor, I present the ladies and gentlemen of the jury evidence that, following a game of highway bingo on August 15, 2001, my sister did punch me in the left side of the head. This unjustified and unladylike assault occurred at Deadman’s Summit on Route 395, so named because of a corpse found there in the 1860s. (See, I still have a bruise.) I also submit that this corpse, though dead and headless, was far luckier than myself because it never met the aforementioned sister.

Furthermore, I contend that I did win the game of highway bingo, that the bird observed on the roadside was in fact a crow, not a raven, and that this sister, one Jane, was entirely unfounded in her refusal to accept defeat and proclaim me champion of the family van.

Judge: Mr. Kennedy, I can’t see any possible relevance in these remarks.

WK: Your honor, if you will indulge me, the above incident served merely as a jumpstart to the injustice and downright terribleness to come on this family road trip—a trip that had just begun when the punching took place, one that still had one week and 1,750 miles to go. From my experiences I have no doubt the jury can only conclude that all future family road trips must be postponed indefinitely or canceled outright, while awarding me a settlement of $50,000 for emotional and physical trauma.

Judge: Well, it’s highly unorthodox, but I’ll allow it.

WK: Thank you, your honor. I call my first witness, Robert Kennedy.

Robert Kennedy takes the stand.

Isn’t it true, Dad, that not once, not twice, but thrice you crashed the brand-new family van, and that on the third instance the door jammed, setting off the ‘door-ajar’ alarm, so that everyone in the parking lot stared at us?

Robert Kennedy: Yes, but…

WK: No further questions. Let me remind the court that sitting in a hot parking lot inside a beeping white van with a broken door is incredibly uncool. Next, I call Jane Kennedy to the stand.

Jane Kennedy takes the stand.

WK: Tell me, Jane “Worst Sister in the Universe” Kennedy—where were you on the evening of August 15 at 4 p.m.?

Jane Kennedy: I’m not talking to you.

WK: Answer the question, please.

JK: Nope.

WK: Your honor, permission to treat the witness as hostile, annoying and spoiled.

Judge: Granted.

WK: I’ll tell you then. You were running away! That’s what you were doing, further wrecking an already hopelessly bad vacation.

JK: Yeah, ‘cause you were a jerk.

WK: Am not!

JK: Are too! You called me fat.

WK: Well, I…

JK: And you threw up on me.

WK: That was an accident.

JK: And it was a raven!!!

WK: For the zillionth time, it was a CROW and I won! You’re such a… Ahem, pardon me your honor, no further questions. For my penultimate witness, I call Helen “Second Worst Sister in the Galaxy” Kennedy.

Helen, you’re probably too young to fully comprehend the psychological damage caused by our road trip, but please tell the good people of the jury…”

HK: It was fun.

WK: What?

HK: Yeah. Except you were in a bad mood. Maybe because you didn’t eat anything.

WK: Helen, be quiet.

HK: And then we finally found organic avocados and bread that you would eat, but when we sat under that big tree by the Native American museum, it shed fur all over your sandwich, and then you looked at us and said: “I hate this family.”

WK: But what about all the hours in the car? When Dad wouldn’t stop to let you use the restroom? Those Utah people thinking Jane and I were your parents?

HK: That was funny.

WK: What about when you made us get out in Yosemite because you saw snow for the first time? And then, when you wouldn’t leave after two hours, we dragged you away screaming and crying, and people thought we were kidnapping you?

HK: I like snow.

WK: Grrrrr. No further questions. For the final witness, I call Maria Kennedy.

Maria Kennedy takes the stand.

WK: Mom, I’d like to take a minute…

MK: Actually, I wanted to take a minute to show you something.

WK: Mom! I’m supposed to be asking the questions.

MK: What’s this in my hand?

WK: Mom, please, you’re really embarrassing me right now!

MK: What is it?

WK: It’s a photo of me, Jane and Helen laughing … under some really cool rock formations near in Zion National Park.

MK: And what’s this?

WK: It’s me pretending to throw Helen in the Grand Canyon.

MK: And how ‘bout this one?

WK: That’s you and Jane helping me write a letter … to my girlfriend. But Mom, pictures don’t tell the whole story!

MK: What about the time you hiked with your dad to the top of Angel’s Landing? Or your bike ride in Moab? Or when we all went river rafting with the guide who loved the A-Team almost as much as you.

WK: OK MOM! No further questions. Your honor, I’d like to request a brief recess before my closing remarks.


Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I came before you today originally to sue my family and argue for the dissolution of the institution of family road trips, but I can no longer in good conscience continue. The testimony we’ve heard reminded me that yes, much, and possibly most of what goes on during a family road trip is awful and humiliating, but there are also wonderful moments.

It’s a right of passage, especially for teenagers, to go to a place, be really embarrassed by family members, and promise never to return. And it’s a source for stories that the family will find funny at some point in the very, very, very distant future.

I hereby formally submit to end the proceedings, but leave you with this final insight. Go on that road trip with the whole family, but just the once; it’ll be more than enough.





…A short story by Megan Ritchie

Afterward, Agnieska would say it was God’s miracle.

“It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen,” she’d tell her friend, Marta, and in saying so, she’d straighten her head kerchief—she meant it. Then, she would walk the two and a half blocks to church and thank Jesus for creating such beauty and splendor, for allowing her to see this miracle of clean glass, and polished marble, and doors that somehow slid open without any sign of knobs or hinges.

But before she walked into the Galleria Krakowska and blinked in the fluorescent sunshine, Agnieska was afraid.

On the rocking train, she fiddled with her green beaded rosary and consulted her crinkled, damp timetable every few moments. It was not as if she had never been on a train—this was, after all, her third ride—but she had never before traveled alone and never for so long and so far.

Four stops later, after the train had pulled up to the platform in Krakow Glowny, the white-haired porter—a spitting image of her cousin, Edward, who had moved to Belgium just after the war—handed down her patched navy blue suitcase. Then he bid her farewell, touching two fingers to the brim of his hat, and she turned to the matter at hand.

The blue-and-white signs tugged her along in the direction of Rynek Glowny, and out into a large, cement-paved square. Agnieska looked at the smudged face of her wristwatch—a quarter to eleven. At half past, she was to meet Pan Gorecki, a lawyer with Gorecki & Makowski, Ltd.

Agnieska settled herself on a cold marble bench and pulled out the worn letter. She read, the Polish words dancing across the page:

 “Dear Pani Jagoda,

 “It has come to our firm’s attention that you may have claim to several plots of land some 23 km outside of Tarnow. In accordance with current re-privatization laws, if you can produce evidence of your parents having lived and owned such land, you will be its legal owner.

 “If at all possible, we request most cordially that you come to our Krakow branch to discuss this matter. We represent a land development company, R&R Builders. They have expressed interest in your property, and we would like to make you an offer to purchase it.

 “Please feel free to contact me if you should have any questions at (012) 457 328 or by e-mail at gorecki@goreckiltd.pl.


Jan Gorecki, Esq.”


Agnieska finished the letter and folded it twice before placing it once again in her front right pocket.

She looked around her, half expecting Pan Gorecki to come up to her, forty-five minutes early, and present her with a large check and keys to a glittering new automobile—it felt as if she had won the lottery, in receiving such a letter.

Instead, what caught her attention was the large, glittering structure to the left of the train station. “Krakowia Galleria” proud letters proclaimed across its front. Glancing at her watch once again, she decided she had time to buy a few souvenirs before meeting up with the lawyer.

So, Agnieska stood up from the cold marble bench and walked toward the mall. The first thing that struck her was the music: a young woman, screaming harshly, her f’s and t’s gyrating in a language that certainly was not Polish. Was that English?

“No matter,” Agnieska decided, as she neared the mall. The doors slid open in front of her without a touch and Agnieska stopped short.

“Boże!”[1] she exclaimed as a young couple stepped past her, eyeing her faded head kerchief and patched suitcase. She stepped forward cautiously. The door did not move. Pausing every few steps, Agnieska inched her way into the mall.

And as she looked around, everywhere was light! Color! Glass! So much glass!

The floors were scrubbed a perfect white, so clean that Agnieska could see a glint of herself when she peered down. There were stairs, many many stairs, but somehow, they were, why, they were moving! Just as the door had.

Agnieska paused, and, without hesitating, crossed herself twice. She then began to explore. The lady, after all, was no stranger to a market place, and she quickly decided that, save the miraculous moving stairs and the glinting lights overhead, this mall was no different than the Saturday antique market back home.

She quickly determined that she would need to purchase something for her friend, Marta.

“Marta will be so impressed,” Agnieska said to herself, fingering the worn handle on her suitcase as she deliberated which store to enter first, “with something for her kitchen—some new invention or another.”

She smiled slightly at the humbled look that was sure to cross her friend’s face and tucked a stray lock of gray hair under her kerchief. So, with that thought of such disbelief, gratitude, and, yes, even a little jealousy, all sketched in Marta’s wrinkled features pushing her along, Agnieska set off for something fit for her friend’s kitchen. She still paused every few moments to take in the three headless mannequins modeling blue jeans to her right and the plush square sofas at the coffee shop on her left.

She came upon “_______,” which, with yellow banners splashing along its windows, screamed of its huge clearance sale. Agnieska was intrigued. She shuffled in, and began poking at the various bowls and stirring spoons she encountered. Finally, there it was: the perfect gift—a multi-purpose, two-toned, eight-speed food processor.

Although Agnieska had seen such gadgets flickering in advertisements across her television set on the evenings as she scrubbed her kitchen stove, she had never before held one in her hands. The TV itself had been enough of an achievement. Eight or nine years earlier, her nephew had brought it down from Warsaw. He had placed it carefully on its fake wooden stand, plugging it in, after a spark or two, to the side of the wall.

But here was something different.

Agnieska stood, her feet unmoving, her hands getting slightly clammy with excitement, reading the features on the back of the box. “Self-cleaning,” “stainless steel,” and “four interchangeable blades” threw themselves off the cardboard in sleek Polish phrases and bold type, and were all greedily consumed by Agnieska’s eyes.

Her breath began to quicken. It was wonderful.

She carefully pulled a white-and-red specimen off the shelf and walked up to the register, eying her watch as she did so: A quarter after eleven.

“Hullo,” said the cashier, a sallow faced youngster with rather bad skin and hair sticking up at peculiar angles.

“Good day,” replied Agnieska. She hesitated a moment at the moving conveyor belt in front of her, before she set down the box, the most impressive food processor clinking slightly within.

She winced slightly at the price. Her bank account would not forgive that many zloty easily, but she rationalized that for a gift that would cause Marta to turn a particularly satisfying shade of pink—How could she, Marta, ever dream of topping such a present for Agnieska’s name day, after all?—was worth it. Besides, after meeting with Pan Gorecki, she was bound to forget the whole matter of money entirely.

She slid the wrinkled bills across to the young man, he popped the box into a crinkling green plastic bag, and the whole matter was done. She headed for the door.

“11:20,” said her watch.

“Nearly time,” said Agnieska.

“Shrieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!” said the door.

Agnieska felt her heart pull at her neatly buttoned shirt. Her eyes squeezed shut and her hands shot to her ears.  In doing so, her suitcase sailed out of her right hand, and the green plastic bag out of her left.

Suddenly, Agnieska was back in her parent’s old farmhouse, destroyed more than half a century earlier. The chickens in the yard hadn’t been cooped up, and the dog was barking something terrible. She and her parents were tucked under their wooden oak table, holding onto each other, as they heard the most atrocious of sounds: gunshots firing over and over; shrieks and wails from so many voices; and always, always, that pervasive siren. Tanks were crashing along the road some 400 meters from their home, pushing their way through decades-old forest. Agnieska sat on the rough hewn floor and shivered, squeezing her eyes shut, and clapping her hands to her ears. It made no difference; she could still hear the sirens through her fingers.

Her father had been shot that night. Three German soldiers, stopping for a drink of water, had thought he looked too Slavic.

Still in the mall, Agnieska did not stop to retrieve suitcase or blender. She knew only that she had to escape that noise.  She began to sprint, her two old legs knocking at the knees, out of the store, and then, barely pausing for the doors to slide open, out of the mall.

There, the train station was there, on her left, still standing, resolute.

Although her breath was coming out in three-tone wheezes, Agnieska hardly lessened her pace. That siren, she could still hear it, somehow, back there, in the mall. She hastily consulted the departure schedule.  Seeing that a train left from platform four for Wroclaw, in a mere two minutes, she galloped, her hips and knees screaming, up the stairs to the platform and onto the train.

* * *

Afterward, Agnieska would write a letter to Pan Gorecki. She would explain that she had not been able to make the trip, that it was too long, and that he should send along the documents, for her and her nephew to consult at home.

But to Marta, she would speak only of the mall.

She would say: “Traveling all that way? Why, to see such a miracle, I would gladly go again,” before leaning back into the creaky oak chair and taking a sip of lemon tea. Marta, for her part, would shake her head—“How is this possible?”—before crossing herself. And both women, tea in hand, would rock quietly away at the fireplace, blinking in the setting sun.

[1] A colloquial phrase in Polish, roughly translated as “My God!”

For more on Poland, see these articles by Megan:

Running Five Polish Miles

EY Travel Tips: Krakow







I survived Dog Sledding in Mongolia

~ OR ~

…How to put what’s left of a good face on travel adversity

“So I went to the doctors,” Bijani said.

“Oh good, what did they say?” The phone-line went quiet for a few seconds.

“Well, that I’d probably lose my big toe and parts of both ears.”


“Yeah, they’re pretty black and peely right now. You know marshmallows, after they’ve been on fire? Kinda like that.”

“Oh—that’s bad! Did you get a second opinion?”

“I think it’ll be ok,” Bijani laughed. “They found a doctor who’d lived in Alaska, and he says as long as everything stays warm I get to keep my nose, earlobes—all that good stuff.”

“… Does your mom know?”

“No—but she’ll kill you when she finds out.”


I’m a thoughtful dude: I do dishes; I put the toilet seat down at night; onetime I read the Little Prince and told people I liked it. So, never, in a million years, did I imagine this could happen to me.

Even Bijani’s mom’s parting words didn’t offer a hint. “Mongolia’s not the world’s safest place,” she said. “Don’t let ANYTHING happen to my beautiful daughter.” Frostbite would surely count as a kind of “anything”—and on her second-to-last-day, all because I’d agreed to have “fun” against my better judgment.

Oh, we’d had fun before—my kind of fun—the kind that involves working long hours at a newspaper office and watching Singapore-based sports TV in an apartment. But given her imminent return to California, I couldn’t say no. For our last, most memorable adventure in the land of Genghis Khan, Bijani chose dog sledding.


“At least the dogs were cute,” Bijani said.

“Oh yeah, great.”

“And I liked Noel.”

“That crazy French guy? He’s insane—case of permanent brain freeze.”

“Look on the bright side…”

“Easy for you to say. You just got frostbite. I’m going to be murdered by your mother.”


“Aghhhhh. How did this happen?”


It started with us setting off for sledding on one of those unusually mild, Mongolian January days. It was zero degrees. For the first time in three months I felt overdressed in long underwear, snowpants, gloves, and two jackets. One small victory in the battle of Man vs. cold.

The Silver Storm company van drove us out of Ulaanbaatar city northeast toward Terelj National Park, while I sweated past wrecked cars that served as “don’t drink and drive” reminders, through stiff yellow hills and finally the famous rock that looks like a turtle happily sunning itself.

We arrived and I couldn’t help feeling a little optimistic about the expedition. Three felt tents beside a log shed made up the camp, where lean, eager huskies and the bemused voice of Noel, our energetic guide, greeted us.

“Is zees all you brought?” he prodded our clothes dubiously and left, returning a few moments later with massive, traditionally-pattered wool jackets and pants.

“Now you will not freeze,” he said.










It was colder by the banks of Terelj River than in the city, but I felt impenetrable in my woolen armor. Noel wore a jacket, ski-pants and a fleecy headband. I figured we were being treated with big, woolen, kiddie mittens.

We met Black and White, the skinny lead dogs, and learned the essentials—hold on, lean left to turn left, right to turn right. And that was it—we mounted our wooden sleds and plunged down a powdered ice ramp onto the hard river.











The stony riverside and lines of crisp alpines whipped by at seven miles per hour. Black looked over his shoulder as if to say: “Isn’t this fun?” It was fun, for five minutes.

Then I felt something else. Pain.

Freezing pain.


“Remember how the wind cut through seams in your clothes and your boots?” Bijani asked?

“Oh yeah, but how’d it get through both pairs of socks?”

“Weird, huh?”

“You should’ve said something; we’d have gone back.”

“I just couldn’t make myself do it, but I wanted to turn around so badly,” she said.

“I wanted to cry, but my tear ducts froze.”


At some point, we stopped for a third time. Bijani started with a neat fur hat and scarf wrapped around her face. Now frost caked her eyebrows and yellowing scarf; the hat was long gone, blown off and replaced by my lopsided wool cap. She looked like the disconsolate runner up of Miss Abominable Snowwoman 2008.

I should have given her my balaclava, but it was too cold to really be considerate.

“Should we keep going?” I asked.

I wanted her to say no. She opened her mouth and nothing came of it, just a headshake. (Later she’d tell me her brain had lobbied for a nod, but some frozen synapses misfired).

“Only 15 kilometers to go!” Noel said.

I knew we would die. Black glanced over his shoulder again, and I saw resignation on his face. “Yes, you are going to die,” his look said. “And if no one’s looking, I’ll probably eat you. No hard feelings, though.”

The wind howled. We crossed more frozen water. Sometimes it made cracking noises and we could see the water running under our feet. Sometimes rocks or debris formed a line across the icy track and we had to get off and run behind the sleds. I cursed nature. Bijani fell. She fell again.

She looked at me and I’ve never seen a face I know registering that much pain.

At last we reached the halfway point, a river bend that provided some shelter from the wind. Noel lit a fire and heated mutton dumplings and tea. I thought it was the best meal I’d ever eaten.

“At least we won’t die hungry,” Bijani said.

Miraculously, the wind at our back made the homeward journey easy. Bijani got a lift in Noel’s sled. I laughed the whole way to camp, partly from relief, partly from borderline hysteria that made me careless with the reins a few times. Black peeked at me, looking concerned and a little disappointed. He licked his lips.

Once inside a safe felt tent with a dung fire going, we took off our huge coats and pants and took stock of our situation. Bijani removed her hat.

“Uh oh,” I said.

“My ears feel funny,” she said.

They were humongous. The backs had bubbled into deep purple blisters.

“Is this going to be ok?” I asked Noel.

“Oh that,’ he laughed. “That iz just from the cold. The elephant ears. You feel just like an elephant because ze are so…”

“Floppy?” Bijani offered

“Floppy!” He made wiggly elephant ear motions with his hands.

“Will she be ok?”

“But it iz nuffing. It’s happened to me at least five times.”

Noel’s headband remained conspicuously over his ears for our entire visit. We drove back in the dusk. Against the frozen brown backdrop that signature rock looked like a turtle trying to squeeze out of its shell and run, run for the hills, far away from its angry, future mother-in-law.

Things looked even worse when we got home and Bijani took her shoes off. The big toe on her right foot was black. I spent the evening breathing on her feet trying to keep them warm.

“This is just the romantic last evening I wanted,” Bijani said.

We got advice ranging from ‘put the affected areas in snow’ to ‘pray,’ to ‘everything will be fine.’ The next day, Bijani left for California with burn traces clearly showing on her face. She called me 20 hours later.


“So you’ll really be ok,” I asked.

“I think so.”

“I am so sorry. What a perfect end to a perfect stay, huh?”

“You know, I actually had a lot of fun.”


“Ha ha ha. Of course, didn’t you?”

“Except that it was the most awful, difficult, painful experience of my life, yeah, I guess I did.”

“Good. Plus we have a great story and I’ll have cool scars to prove it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“It won’t be so bad. They won’t last more than a few months. Speaking of which, when are you coming home?”

“Dunno, after your mom has cooled down for a year or two… “ There was another silence on the line. “So, where to next? Somewhere really nice like Iceland, Antarctica, the frozen void of space …?

“Don’t get any ideas, buddy. I’m taking you somewhere warm.”


For more on Will’s escapades in Mongolia, check out these additional EY articles:

Second Chances: UB Mongolia

EY Travel Tips: MONGOLIA

and coming soon:  TAJ MONGOLIA

Some say adversity is the fuel on which true love feeds…it certainly seems true for Will & Bijani who continue to surprise, delight & inspire us at every turn!  Read more about their engaging love story here.



The World Really Is Flat

Based on a Ritchie Family Legend…

Bob wasn’t looking forward to his doctor’s appointment. People in his family rarely went to the doctor. His mother had died of colon cancer because, by the time she’d gone to a physician, the tumors had already spread far beyond her digestive system. No, doctors were not to be trusted. They made him too uncomfortable.

Still, he trudged toward the optometrist’s office, armed with a book and his over-the-counter reading glasses, should there be a wait. He’d gone for one reason: his wife, Linda. Trained as a lawyer, she was skilled at convincing him to do things he didn’t want to do.

“It’ll be good for you,” she said, patting his knee. “Just a check-up.”

He opened the office door. Bob looked as if someone had put a thumb on top of his now-balding head, and pushed down. Two-thirds of his body was torso. Still, he wasn’t an unattractive man. His eyes had the unusual tendency to change between blue and green, depending on what he wore. This had always charmed Linda, who expressed her preference by buying him forest green sweaters for Christmas or birthdays. “I have an appointment with Dr. Graham,” Bob told the receptionist, a petite woman with lots of hair. “Okay, you just sit over there”–she motioned to two armchairs–” and Dr. Graham will call you in a moment.”

Bob steered himself into a chair and opened his book, a secondhand mystery novel. The detective, a sassy brunette, had just stumbled over a major clue, when–

“Bob?” called Dr. Graham, a younger man with slick hair. Bob followed him into the examining room.

“And how are we today?” Dr. Graham said, opening Bob’s file.

*Snellen Eye Chart

The doctor smoothed his hair and began to administer tests, pausing to record his results.

“And finally, are things clearer with lens A or B?” Dr. Graham fiddled a knob on a piece of equipment near Bob’s temple.

“Uh, B,” said Bob. “Okay. Now C or D?” “D.”

“Well, that’s interesting,” said Dr. Graham, his hand drifting toward his hair again. He paused for a moment to read over his notes.

“Interesting?” Bob asked, leaning forward in the examining chair. If they found something wrong with him, he swore right then, Linda would never get him into a doctor’s office again. Never.

“Strictly speaking, your eyes are fine. No glaucoma, no signs of cornea wear.”

Bob shifted.

“But, according to my calculations…well, Bob, you can’t see 3D.”


“Let’s put it this way:” The doctor paused for a moment, for emphasis: “If you could see what we see, you would be amazed.”

Dr. Graham leaned back, letting his prognosis sink in. Yes, this was medicine at its finest.

“Now,” the doctor continued, “I don’t think there should be any long term effects with all of this. There haven’t been any yet, right? He chuckled.

“Problems playing tennis, perhaps? Or…?”

Bob stood up, glancing around the room. Yes, there was the doctor’s framed medical degree, hanging on the wall. But still, it was clearly time to leave.

“Well. Thank you for your time,” said Bob, gathering his coat and book.

Dr. Graham beamed.

“Not at all, Bob, not at all. You just be careful out there, alright? With your condition and all, you never can be too safe.”

Driving home, Bob called his wife. “Say, Linda,” he said. “Is that 3D movie the kids wanted to see still out?”

“I think so. Why? How did the eye appointment go?”

“Fine. It went fine.  I think I just need a second opinion.”

*Image Source                                        ~Megan~
Duck pic

Spring Pucker

It’s that funny month of March again where mornings are Winter and afternoons already Spring.  All batty-eyed and full of expectation, the sun – as the lark – rises earlier each morning. (So do I, by the way, though fumblingly and with decidedly less grace and panache.)   I wear my rain boots and winter coat every day – another marker of early March. Were I living in a big city where people go all ‘tall, dark and handsome’ for quirky fashions, I might get a few silent nods of approval, but here I think people are just wondering why I left my Power Ranger lunchbox and protection-tipped plastic umbrella at home. But, as previously mentioned, those high-heels make up for most of my fashion missteps in Ukraine.  So, rain boots and winter coat it is. The overnight chill leaves the road that stretches from my house to school icy until midday when the mud and green and chirp of birds reappear, reminding me that I’ve made it through the cruel months of Winter once again…

I turned onto my street just a few minutes ago satisfied that I’d managed to get off my butt and go for a run.  It rained yesterday and the road is rough and muddy terrain but, as always, quite worth it.  I saw the usual – a few kids playing by the side of the road, nibbling at the grass and following a Billy goat up and down the sidewalk and those spotted cows with horns just going about their early springtime business.

Things have quite suddenly become deathly green here.  Every tree branch hangs heavy over the sidewalk. Little streets that I walk down every day to get to school are nearly unrecognizable the growth has been so great. How this place has changed so quickly. It is beautiful and doing everything in its power to contend with the image of dark, gray Soviet concrete that seems permanently plastered in my mind.

The milder weather, though, has done little to change the dressing habits of Ukraine’s youngest generation.

Ukrainian kids are, as a rule, overdressed in Spring and Fall. The fear of catching a chill is ubiquitous and no thermometer could convince the guardians of these little stuffed starfish to let them shed even a single layer. I see one such munchkin a few hundred feet away from my front gate.  He’s standing alone, playing in a pile of sand (undoubtedly meant for some other purpose) and baking in the midday rays.  He’s bundled up like a rolled cigar; tight little layers, each adding to his girth and internal temperature.  He has a wool hat pulled down over his ears, corduroy pants (wide wales) and little yellow shoes.  The little shoes remind me of the twelve ducklings that are living in our yard.  Small gray mud stains spot the front half of each duckling.  Nearly identical spots are splattered on my neighbor boy’s shoes.  It is nothing like Pollock but it ain’t half bad.

Usually, as I walk by most kids just stare unabashedly at me until I pass.  I greet them with some inevitably accented salutation and they only gawk greater.  This little guy, however, pays me no mind.  He’s busy practicing.  I hear him before I get a good look at what he’s doing.  It sounds something like a kitchen parrot trying to get the attention of a recently arrived house guest.  Or a first grader who’s just discovered the musical instrument created after the loss of her two front teeth.

It’s the overgrowth that prevents me from seeing him right away. Unaccustomed as I am to the sounds of farm animals, I briefly consider whether or not this noise could be some other species of turkey with whom I have yet to make an acquaintance.

But no – I turn the corner and confirm – it is a little boy.

And the best kind of little boy I know – all bundled up like a late-blooming butterfly. So darling is he that for a moment, I don’t begrudge his mother for keeping him wrapped up for as long as possible in the polyester-silken safety of his chrysalis snowsuit.

The little boy stands beside his own gaggle of ducklings. He stares at them – he in his spotted yellow shoes and they in their spotted yellow down.  He puckers his lips and – loud like Gabriel – kisses the air in their direction.  It sounds like he’s participating in a candy-sucking contest – trying his damndest to finish the hard lemony rock in his mouth before the next kid.  He stares over at the fuzzy, yellow animals and then, again, sucks in his lips and smacks.  He’s improving – slow, sloppy kisses become quick, sharp ones.  And soon it seems as though he is conducting them all with his two little, puckered and pink lips.

He’s got it right – this little cigar of a Don Juan; he’s gotten right down to the business of spilling his affection out onto these first evidences of life alive again.  The objects of his love declarations are frenetic with excitement and a little muddy, too. The ducklings peep and squeak in response. I vow to be more pleasant in the mornings and enjoy the icy walk to school. I promise to take advantage of the sunshine and launder my clothes more often. I will finish that book and spend more time outside. I also consider taking up Astronomy.  I resolve to be a better American.

Some orchestra, I marvel.

And some spring.

I know it’s early yet, but I do think it’ll be a good one.  Not just because the snowdrops will start growing and the marshrutka trips will be faster and less jostling.  Or even because I’ll get to see my friends and wear more dresses.  But because it just aught to be.  After all, what manner of thing could deign to be dismal when it starts out with such an act?



How I Chose My College – Or How It Chose Me

I loved college. I really loved it.  Don’t get me wrong, it never was easy, and there were some tough parts—calculus, two semesters as a sophomore in a freshman dorm, Minnesota weather—but the four years I spent earning a BA were terrific.

I didn’t always think they would be; in fact, for most of high-school I didn’t want to go to college.   

During fall 2003 my senior classmates were feeling the pressure and frantically completing applications. Not me though—I wasn’t in a hurry and besides, I wasn’t sure about this school business. I would’ve rather become a fireman or joined the army, or become a jeweler, things that shouldn’t require much additional class time.

These revelations did not please my father, a teacher, who’d spent the better part of 20 years, and considerable money, ensuring my sisters and I received the best possible education. Nor would this information have thrilled my private high school’s administrators, who prided themselves on a near perfect record of sending graduates to college.

In a latent effort to make him and myself feel better, I applied to a few schools, mostly places I’d heard of nearby. One evening as the application deadline drew close, my dad handed me a brochure embossed with fall leaves—a rarity in evergreen California. The school was called Macalester.

“You’ll like this place,” he said. “They march to the beat of a different drummer.”

I read the brochure silently.

“It’s off the beaten track,” he said.

Not one for mixing metaphors, my dad was clearly excited. In this instance ‘off the beaten track’ meant the Midwest, but his enthusiasm convinced me to include the school in the common application.

By the time acceptances and rejections began arriving, I’d come up with a unique plan; I would join Americorps and go to the East Coast, where I’d be close to my college-bound girlfriend. As a concession, I’d accept and defer admission to one college. If I changed my mind about school, at least I’d kept my options opened.  

A trip to the mailbox revealed a flaw in my designs. Despite an aloof approach I hadn’t expected many rejections, but my applications to most colleges and to Americorps were denied. I did, however, get into a few places, including Macalester, which pleased my dad immensely. And, the more I learned about the school, the more appealing it sounded. A college with a reputation for internationalism sounded nice; I’d never been to Minnesota before, and of course I liked that I got in.

That didn’t mean I was ready for college, and I did defer admission, choosing to travel around Europe for some time. This journey turned out to be its own great and eye-opening experience, and when I came back to the states, I volunteered at a mentoring organization in New York City, living in a Brooklyn YMCA where I played a lot of basketball and read a lot of books in my free time.

Time ran its course, and when I returned home that summer, I was looking forward to school. I’d learned so much from working in an office, travelling through 13 countries, and plotting a path largely by myself, but I’d also realized I wasn’t 100 percent prepared to spend the rest of my life outside a campus. 

From friends who had not taken a “gap year” I’d heard that college was a place where you could live on your own, make mistakes surrounded by people who wanted to help you, and prepare for whatever next step you wanted to take. That sounded really appealing. When fall arrived, I was not simply ready, I was excited to get to school.

I’m always a little embarrassed telling this story, but I’m undeniably grateful that a brochure turned up in my mailbox. Macalester was a great fit for me. Could I have found a better one through careful research and planning? I don’t know. But I do know from subsequent visits to various colleges and conversations with undergraduate friends that America is blessed with lots of great schools. If you are prepared to seek out opportunities, regardless of where you wind up, you’ll find something, and probably many things, to love about college.

I also know that for me, perhaps most importantly, waiting was something I needed to do in order to appreciate the opportunities to come at Macalester. Today I count them among my life’s great experiences.




Part 2 – The Engagement


My Engagement
How A Procrastinating Pragmatist Rediscovered Romance

Continued from Part 1 – An Engaging Story:   Mid-morning on April 18th I woke up, looked at my phone, then rushed to the laundry room for pants. I had a lunch appointment with my girlfriend’s mom. I needed permission to marry her daughter. The rest of the day would be for ring shopping…

… I had two things remaining on my to do list: 1) find a ring; 2) tell my parents. I didn’t get around to either that day.

It was now April 19th, the day my girlfriend turned 25 and we were meeting for dinner at 6:00. I had a writing assignment due at 3:00. I finished it at 3:01 and drove home from school.

On the family patio I ran into my father balancing our trusty stone fountain with a screwdriver and some pennies. Water started gurgling from the angel faces on all four sides. 

“Dad I’m–getting engaged.”

He stood up. “When?” The angels went silent.

“In two hours.”

“You better tell your mother,” he said. Those were his words anyway, but the look said, “Son, you’ve stepped in it.” 

I took a deep breath and stared at the gaping cherubs on the imbalanced fountain. “Don’t look at us for help,” they seemed to say. “You’ve really done it this time.”

My mother interrupted these reflections by opening the front door. There was no time for a lengthy explanation and the words spilled forth in an unbroken stream.

“Hi Mom I’m getting engaged.”


“Before you say anything I have to do it in two hours and I don’t have a ring and I really need your help.”

My dad needed to be at work, but he came too. We drove to the downtown jewelry shop where he’d once taken me to buy my girlfriend a silver necklace inlaid with purple-glass. That was the night of junior prom.

“Good afternoon,” my mother said to the jeweler lady, “We’re looking for engagement rings.”

“Congratulations!” she smiled at me sympathetically. “We don’t have a huge selection, but you’re more than welcome.” She removed a case with about 30 rings of assorted shapes and sizes. The prospects were dim. 

After a while my mother picked out an imperial-looking ring whose center stone rose high above two bulbs of carbon. It was quite probably the best of the lot, but it wasn’t good enough.

A procrastinating pragmatist with a heart of gold

“Wait a minute.” I pointed to a better one. “She’d love this.”

It was a band topped by an elongated, angular face with a pearl coming out of the head like a turban or a partially popped piece of corn or an exposed, giant-white brain: A Temple of Doom ring.

“You can’t,” my mom said.

“It’d be kinda funny.”

“An engagement is something a girl never forgets. It’s supposed to be romantic.”

 “It’d just be a place holder…”

“If you buy that, she will say no.”

“…Till I can afford something nicer.”

My dad was extra silent.

“I will tell her to say no,” my mother said.

I nudged her in the “let’s keep our voices down in front of strangers, you’re embarrassing me” way, but she was rolling and there was no stopping her.

I sighed and looked back at the potential symbols of my engagement. I was pretty set on the Temple of Doom ring. I tuned back into my mom. 

“You can’t put everything off,” she concluded.

I glanced once more at the case, and there they were: five small diamonds shining from a gold setting that looked white, but proved yellow on closer inspection. It was modest. It was elegant.

I plucked the ring from the lackluster assembly. My mom looked pleased.

“That’s the one.”

“That’s pretty good,” my dad said.

The jeweler placed it on a measuring rod. “Size six and a half, but I can have it resized by next week.”

“That won’t be necessary. I need it in an hour.” The ring was a perfect fit. Or pretty close. “I’m meeting her for dinner downtown.”

“Wonderful!” said the jeweler. “Where’d you make your reservation?”


I brushed the lint off my black jacket and tied the knot on the skinny tie my girlfriend likes with a few minutes to spare.  The ring was in the cookie box. The cookie box was in a bag.

I picked her up on time, and my girlfriend and I drove back to the downtown and parked outside its nicest restaurant. The jeweler had called ahead to save us a place. 

“This is so nice,” my girlfriend said.

And it was. Over our food we debated the merits of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries versus the Hollywood production and laughed and cast people from our high school in roles from Anna Karenina. I brushed the bag under the table with my foot and felt confident.

It was very dark when we finished, but not cold. Outside I placed my jacket over my girlfriend’s shoulder’s and asked if we could go for a walk. We strolled beneath the old iron street lamps, past the cluttered display of the jewelry shop, the town hall and the pizza place we’d been to on a chaperoned date. We walked past the watch maker’s corner shop and turned toward the wooden-planked bridge that leads to a small park. I heard water meandering down the creek bed.

One night after class as a 17-year old I’d walked to my girlfriend’s house on the county line to say “I love you” for the first time, but I’d known it in this little park before that, leaning on a railing and listening to the stream beneath the cool redwoods.

We crossed the bridge and I felt nervous for the first time that day. Beside the railing I took out the cookie box.

“I got you a present. Something small.”

“You did?”

“Well, your mom went to Paris and I asked her to get those macaroons you always talk about.”


She took the box and balanced it on the rail to give me a hug. It tottered for a moment.

“Let’s take a step back,” I said.

I grabbed it, handed it to her once more and as she peered inside I lowered myself onto one knee. She saw the ring, then saw me looking up at her.

“Will you marry me?” I asked.

I looked at her face. She didn’t say anything, but I got the feeling I’d just drank something very warm except in reverse, starting in my stomach and moving to my chest. She was crying. I stood up. 

“Yes,” she said.

Did I tell her how much I loved her and how happy she’d made me right there and then? No. I smiled and wrapped my arm around her. I had the rest of my life for that and I didn’t want to spoil this moment with words.