British Holiday: Counting Down to Take-Off

After two months of planning the time is very near.  I’m leaving North America for the first time and yes, I’m so excited my skin is breaking out!

Over these two months I’ve read countless blogs, countless travel sites, visited United.com more times than I want to know, and created a decent sized pinterest board relating to travel.  I’ve shopped.  I’ve packed.  I’ve re-packed.  I’ve rechecked the location of my passport weekly — just

My initials in nail polish makes my checked bag stand out.

My initials in nail polish makes my checked bag stand out.

in case I’ve misplaced it.  And through it all I’ve learned a few things worth considering.

  1. Follow your own travel habits.  Every other blog or pinterest pin talks about traveling internationally with just a carry on.  Guess what?  That’s not me.  I’ve flown for twenty years checking a regular bag and using my carry on for just what I need at the airport and on the plane.  In all this time I’ve never lost a bag.  And since I put my initials in nail polish all over this bag, I’m pretty sure that no one else has a bag looking like mine.
  2. Packing cubes equal more space.  I’ve found I couldn’t put everything into packing cubes, but they’ve done wonders for my organization, especially the narrow 4x8x2″ ones which now I wish I had more of.  Everything is categorical thanks to the cubes.  I even have one just for toiletries, allowing me to keep those together.
  3. If you are checking your bag, don’t stuff the carry on with clothing.  Influenced by those websites I became convinced I needed a big packing cube in my carry on.  There’s
    Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on  bag has been with me on every flight I've ever taken.  It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

    Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on bag has been with me on every flight I’ve ever taken. It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

    two problems to this.  One:  space.  In a soft side carry on, just one packing cube will take up half of the space, space I need for my netbook, my snacks, my medicine, and other things I really will use in flight. Two:  weight.  Soft sided carry ons are shoulder bags — no wheels.  Burdening yourself down as you board and leave planes and navigate the airport is not only no fun, but makes that walking more difficult.  I use a white cane to walk.  Believe me, that cane is useless if I’m encumbered; I just don’t have the range of motion with my arms that I need.  When I stopped following the fancy travel blog advice and repacked all but a pair of flat shoes and whatever socks/underwear I could stuff into my shoes back to the checked bag I found, to my delight, that my carry on now weighs HALF of what it did before.

  4. Drawstring purses for electronics chargers.  Years ago I picked up a couple cute silk drawstring purses — the kind that is nice for when you are out on the town and only need your id, some cash, credit cards, and your payment cards for public transit.  As it happens, those are PERFECT for my cell phone chargers (one phone for US, one for UK) and my netbook power cable, keeping everything neat and compressed and recognizable in my carry on.
  5. Limit computer accessories.  Unless you are giving a business presentation at your destination, you really DON’T need more than your power cable for your computer.  Leave home your nice case and slip the computer directly into your carry on.  After all, TSA makes you remove the computer from its case to scan it.  Why add to your weight and space with more than you need?
  6. Keep a folder for all your paperwork.  Creating a folder for the document part of my bag makes it easy to find my itinerary, photocopy of my passport id page, and other important papers.  Keep everything together.
  7. Photocopy all cards and identification and email to friends/family. Anything can happen when you travel.  Making scan copies of your passport id page, official government identification, and front/back of every payment card you are bringing with you makes replacing those documents easier in case of an emergency.  Once scanned, print out a copy of your passport identification page and a page with your home address and your destination address and put that in a visible place inside your bag. Email yourself and trusted friends/family copies of your documents and financial documents.
  8. Don’t over think the trip.  People will give you great advice.  They will give you poor advice.  They will unnerve you with horror stories meant to help you.  At the end of the day though you need to follow your own instincts.  The more relaxed you are, the better you can solve problems should any come up.  Think but don’t over think your trip.  Plan but don’t over plan.  Stay grounded and have a good time.

Travel is an adventure.  Embrace it and enjoy what comes your way!

Fines not Jail Time — A Better Solution to America’s Incarceration Epidemic

Incarceration_rates_worldwideAmerica has an incarceration problem.  The United States has only 5% of the world population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.  Since 1972 the US prison population is overwhelmingly for non-violent crime, especially drug offences.   Most American prisoners are poor and non-white.  Enforcement is overwhelmingly higher among non-whites and sentences are stricter as well.  Recent statistics show that many states pay over $40,000 per prisoner per year to keep them in jail — that’s more than what many teachers are paid.

WI_Incarceration_rates_by_race_0The social consequences for incarceration are even higher.  Our tough stance on non violent crime has wrecked havoc on our communities and broadened the race divide.  What is worse:  given the poverty of most prisoners and the reduced employment opportunities to ex-convicts, there is far less incentive for most ex-cons to stay out of jail.  When life in jail is better than life outside of jail, it becomes understandable why so many choose to return to prison.

There has to be a better way.  I think there is.  Instead of sending non-violent offenders to prison, we FINE THEM.  Money talks.  Money motivates. Just think about how many people take care to follow traffic laws for fear of a speeding or parking ticket?  How many people will park in the correct spot because they don’t want the expense of their automobile being towed?  If we levied hefty fines instead of jail time on non-violent crime, we would save taxpayer money while increasing revenue through the fines themselves — once we close one critical loophole:  bankruptcy.

StudentLoanDebtMap440x281In the United States filing for bankruptcy will discharge your debts — including fines for breaking the law — but it WON’T purge your student loans.  This of course is completely backward.  Student loans need to be forgiven after ten years.  Period.  No one should die still owing student loans.  Twenty years after I graduated student loans, I still owe more than it costs to buy a house in my local area.  Yet if I failed to mention a box of crackers at customs returning to the USA from a trip to Canada, I could get out of my $10,000 fine just by declaring bankruptcy.

This is backwards.

So let’s reverse this.  Let’s increase fines on criminal offences.  Let’s punish with fines instead of jail time.  Let’s prevent bankruptcy from discharging debts owed to states for criminal offences (even parking tickets).  And at the same time, let’s forgive all student loans after ten years, including and especially for those who graduated university before 2005.  You shouldn’t be paying student loans while receiving medicare — but you should be paying back child support if you skip out of your obligations.

To make the system even more fair, let’s make fines follow income resources with the wealthiest paying the highest fines for the same offences.  Earn less than $20,000 a year and your parking ticket (as a simple example) is $25.  Earn $25 million a year and your parking ticket is $2500.

We need fines to work this way because at present the wealthiest Americans feel they are above the law.  Of course they are:  they have loopholes they can use to avoid taxes.  And if they receive the same fine for the same crime as someone making minimum wage, they have no deterrent.  What is $100 to a billionaire?  They spend more than that on lunch everyday.

We can make the system fairer.  We can bridge the gaps between us.  We can close loopholes and use the power of money to reduce crime.  And we can use that savings to fund education and forgive educational debt.

We can and must do better, forgiving educational debt while using monetary incentives instead of costly jail sentences to reduce crime.

UK Holiday: UK rules for personal foodstuffs less strict than USA rules

The count down is on for my flight and the excitement is building.  I am making my food shopping list, checking it twice, and going to find out who is naughty and nice! (Couldn’t help the pun).

jerky

You can’t bring the beef jerky into the UK nor bring UK origin beef jerky into the USA. The trail mix is fine going into the UK, but must be declared at customs returning to the USA.

Time to really look at government websites and see what is and is not allowed.  Fortunately my post from yesterday seems to be spot-on with regards to what you can bring into the United Kingdom from outside of Europe.  As specified on gov.uk, the main restrictions relate to meat and dairy.  If you go through the page, HM government is very detailed and very explicit on the matter — which is good because no one wants problems at customs.  You can consume meat and dairy to your heart’s content on your flight from USA to UK — at long as you throw away the leftovers before you land.

The USA is apparently much more strict about food coming home from another country.  Looking at the US Customs and Border Protection site and their FAQ for travelers you cannot bring ANY fresh food of any type into the United States.  Anything you do bring with you (aka you didn’t throw away before you disembark from your plane into the USA) must be declared OR YOU FACE a $10,000 FINE.

$10,000 for not saying “I have some crackers in my bag.”

apricots

These apricots are allowed into the UK without any issues. But if I don’t eat them while on holiday and try to bring them back into the USA, I must declare them at customs — or face a $10,000 fine!

Absolutely NO fresh food is allowed into the USA at all.  According to the FAQ, most dried fruits and nuts ARE allowed — as long as you declare them.  Likewise, as long as you tell them, it’s not an issue if you save your pretzels from your flight to eat while you are waiting to change planes.

But it is a bit telling.  I really never expected the flight back to the USA to be more risky than the flight to the United Kingdom.

Well, maybe this is just the universe’s way of telling me something I already know about myself — and where I am happiest!

Character Profile: Pibbin

PibbinSeries the character belongs to:  Tales of Friendship Bog

Character Name: Pibbin

Parents names: Mama and Poppa Wonker

Date of Birth: early last spring

Place of Birth: Friendship Bog in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey

Books appearing in: Pibbin the SmallThe Story ShellTrappedCatch a Robber

Profile:  Pibbin is a tiny Pine Barrens Treefrog, smallest of the frogs that live at Friendship Bog. Pibbin hops from one adventure to the next, growing in courage and learning what it means to be a real friend.

Primary genre: Children’s Fiction
Content rating: G.  No religious content.

Connect with Gloria Repp on Twitter.

Getting saucy for long haul flights

I’m flying to London!  I am so excited about the coming trip, a chance to get out of Pennsylvania and see at last somewhere I’ve dreamed about since childhood:  ENGLAND!

london-flag

Flying out of my local regional airport and connected at Washington DC Dullas, the main flight will be approximately ten hours in the air.  Door to door time: eighteen hours.  How much will United feed me?  A snack on the flight to Dullas and probably just one meal of unknown design maybe two hours into the main flight plus a follow up snack (if I’m awake to get it).  That’s a long time without food.

Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on  bag has been with me on every flight I've ever taken.  It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

Gifted to me when I was 18, this soft-sided carry on bag has been with me on every flight I’ve ever taken. It readily fits under the seat in front of me on even the smallest plane.

Following the advice of many travel blogs and my own flying habits since the airlines both decreased overall services and started charging for nearly all of the ones that remain, I plan on packing most of my carry on bag (oddly enough the one gifted to me for high school graduation more than 20 years ago) with FOOD.  After all, when I get really hungry, nausea tends to follow and no I really don’t want to deal with that on a ten hour flight!

Now yes, I’ve seen a dozen guides about using the carry on as the one and only bag — understandable given how much airlines now charge for a checked bag — but I’ve always seen the carry on as what I need on the plane itself and okay, fine, I’ll pay the fee to check my bag.  For me, this has two very important benefits:  1)  I am able to use the above soft sided carry on and keep it under the seat in front of me (important when you are short and cannot reach the overhead bins), and 2) I have much more flexibility about what I can and cannot bring on trip because many items not allowed in carry on luggage are allowed in checked luggage.

For me, using the checked bag is just less hassle.  Plus on most international flights, the first checked bag is FREE.  So use it and keep the carry on to stuff you actually need close at hand during the long flight.

This established, here are some key things I’m bringing:

Pack medicines and first aid kit into the carry on.  Band-aids, prescription medicine (B2 & Feverfew are dr. prescribed for me), motion sickness pils, and anti-allergy pills are critical.  I also packed plastic cutlery, a seafood fork for my veggies, and a soda can opener.

Pack medicines and first aid kit into the carry on.

napkin power strip

  • Band-aids.  One is in the photo, but I packed about 20 in assorted sizes.
  • Any supplements or medicines you take daily.  For me, B2 and Feverfew are prescribed to control my severe chronic daily migraine.
  • Anti-allergy pills.  Often packed to help you sleep on the plane, this is obvious to anyone with a food allergy.  No, I don’t care to die mid-air!
  • Motion sickness pills.
  • plastic cutlery
  • a seafood fork — yes it’s metal, but it’s TINY and likely to pass the TSA.  And if not — it was cheap and I can throw it away.
  • A soda can opener.  Especially when I really need a beverage I have difficulty opening bottles and cans!
  • A linen napkin.  Linen is durable, washable, and less hassle than paper choices.
  • Travel power strip (people love you when you share)
  • Comb, hair pins, and pony tail holders.

That is all the front pocket stuff I’m bringing.  On the outer back pocket goes a folder with photo copies of my passport pages (as recommended by the US State Department), my state issued identification, original copies of key documents, and a print out of all important names, addresses, and phone numbers. Adding a copy of both outbound and inbound flight information is very helpful too, especially traveling out of the US so you can prove when you are returning to USA.  My outer pocket also holds my in flight reading material which I want to keep close at hand.

All this is pretty mundane.  But what about food?  That is, after all, the bulk of what I’m bringing in my carry on.  And what about the TSA 3-1-1 rule which limits liquids, gels, and creams to not more than 3 ounces (100 ml) per item and not more than what fits in a sealed 1 quart zipper bag?  Since most of the usual items are in my checked bag, this is filled almost exclusively with foodstuffs.

1 oz tupperware cups for allowed foodstuffs and 2 oz disposable salad dressing cups for USA only sauces and salad dressings readily fit in your 1 quart zipper bag.

1 oz tupperware cups for allowed foodstuffs and 2 oz disposable salad dressing cups for USA only sauces and salad dressings readily fit in your 1 quart zipper bag.

Here you want to be thinking about what is allowed within the USA and what is allowed at your destination — the UK in this case.  Under UK law, no meat or dairy products may be brought in from a point of origin outside of the EU.  That means that anything I bring for consumption on the plane itself has to be thrown out before I land at Heathrow.  The solution:  disposable salad dressing cups (2 oz.).

As you can see from my TSA bag, I have three 1 ounce tupperware containers which I’m using for pickle juice (a common muscle spasm remedy). Two disposable salad dressing cups will be filled with ranch dressing and thrown out during my flight.  My one ounce hand sanitizer also goes in there per TSA rules.  Hand sanitizer is an effective eyeglass cleaner, believe it or not.  Finally I’m including a small tube of toothpaste as a just in case.

jerkyapricotsThese of course go into the main section along with zipper bags of fresh mushrooms, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, and perhaps some broccoli if it’s fresh at the store.  Fresh veggies are a great choice for long haul flights because 1) they are healthy, 2) their high moisture content helps stave off jet lag through hydration, and 3) they are not messy to eat.  In addition, I’m also bringing trail mix, dried fruit, and a bag of beef jerky (which yes, must be consumed before I land in London).  Two empty bottles for water also make the essentials list.

And then what?  That depends on remaining bag space.  By focusing on in flight needs, I lighten my bag, make it easy to keep under the seat in front of me, and reduce my travel stress.  That makes a truly bon voyage!

Poem: To him whom my soul loves best

forget me notsAgainst my will do I love thee

The gravity of spirit pulling my heart ever towards thine

No word doth thou say to me, nor ever do ye glance in my direction.

Oh that I might forget ye exist.

So often does logic say “he is nothing, he cares nothing for thee.”

And yet fate doth ever pull thy actions, thine existence into my path.

I would not love thee.  I would not remember even thy name if I could.

I would yield to those whose place, from the distance of where I sit, is more deserving than I.

For who am I but a stranger?

pink rose beautiful

Why do souls remember one another?

Why does Time torment me with knowledge of what was in other lives?

Blessed are those who experience existence as but once born.

Blessed are those deluded by the illusion of time linear.

For they love not eternally, remember not the spirit’s antiquity.

But here I stand, remembering and loving, recognizing ye for who thou was.

I remember our friendships.

I remember our marriages.

I remember the work we together mastered for the good of the many.

forget me nots

Is what I feel merely an echo of the past?

Or are the poets correct and love endures beyond the ending of the world?

Oh dearest soul, I do love thee.

I love thee so much that I fear my every breath is of offence to thee.

I fear to speak, to feel, to be lest ye look upon me with unkind regard.

I fear that by my knowing I love thee that I offend ye and cause ye pains.

Why is it with thee I feel thy life, thy comfort, thy pleasures supersede mine?

Why would I rather weep in lonely despair than speak up and say to thee clearly, “I love thee?”

In so many things my courage, my inner light is proven.

I am so strong, so confident.

Except towards thee.

pink rose beautiful

Logic says there is an equal chance ye regards me highly.

Reason says that all that is beautiful and good about me fills thy eyes and pleases thee.

Here stands a woman of beauty, a tender-rose, an innocent flower!

Tender her with chivalry and grace,

For she is rare and blooms despite a life of bitter wind, snow, and darkness.

And by thy observation of these things, thou art amazed and filled with wonder.

forget me nots

Oh sweetheart, soul of my soul and heart of my heart

Wilt thou not confirm thou looks upon me kindly — not with pity — but appreciation?

Say me to me thou rememberst me too.

Say to me that my light reaches thy eyes and warms thy heart!

Hold me close as you did for centuries.

Show me I matter to thee!

Show me truly that I am not alone.

The US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment: Police, Not Guns in Every Home

American gun patrioticThe 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution is interpreted by the National Rifle Association to mean that every American is guaranteed the right to own and carry firearms anywhere, at any time, in any context s/he wishes.  Common sense is not part of their position.  Guns should be at the zoo, at Starbucks, at your kid’s playground, even in your child’s school.  Guns should be everywhere because the Constitution says so!

Except the Constitution doesn’t say that,  Instead the full text of the 2nd Amendment is:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

14th century Italian militias.

14th century Italian militias.

Now as I talked about three years ago on Yahoo Voices and reposted a year ago, the idea of the militia has a specific historical context grounded in Anglo-Saxon tradition.  It is, at its core, a feudal institution pre-dating professional armies where local men and women responded to local emergencies by arming themselves and protecting their towns and villages.  Mercenaries (soldiers for hire)  were for centuries rather unreliable folks with rape/pillage habits — something American colonists experienced with the Hessian mercenaries hired by the Crown.  Before the emergence of completely professional national armies, soldiers for hire had the habit of abusing the local population, of taking what they wanted.  So locals tended to maintain their militias to protect themselves against such abuse.

gun murder

Times have changed in the United States and United Kingdom. Professional soldiers are hometown heroes and heroines — not threats to the safety of civilian populations. Invasions from foreign powers on home soil is essentially unknown to most Americans and British — the main modern exceptions to that happened during the 2nd World War.  Our armies have professionalized and this is a good thing. Because since the beginning of professional soldiering, the professionals have always possessed superior skills, protection, and weapons compared to their civilian counterparts.

And that is what a militia is:  civilians responding to emergencies.  It’s volunteer police, volunteer fire department, and neighourhood watch organizations. I’ve seen arguments for including USA state national guard units under this umbrella — except those are trained and equipped much more similarly to the full time army, navy, and so forth — and they are paid to do so!

Two London constables on duty.

Two London constables on duty.

So what then does the 2nd Amendment actually guarantee Americans?  If you treat the word “militia” properly, what is the 2nd Amendment actually protecting?  In my analysis as a historian, the 2nd Amendment guarantees us POLICE FORCES and FIRE DEPARTMENTS which do the same job that our militias once did.  Police forces/constabularies and fire departments protect local populations from danger — from within our localities and from outside threats.  When a riot breaks out, it’s the police — not a Federal soldier — that is sent in to deal with it.  When Federal soldiers ARE sent in to deal with riots we habitually treat this much as our ancestors did with mercenary soldiers — and perhaps rightly.

In the Autumn of 2001 New York Penn Station was protected with Federal soldiers carrying high power weapons through the station to police it, a response to 9/11.  Believe me, that terrified me as I walked through the station to catch or depart from my New Jersey Transit trains!  A regular NYPD officer in regular uniform with regular equipment felt safe to be around.  But Federal troops?  Utterly terrifying!

gun murder 2We need our police officers and constables.  We need this modern form of our ancient militias.  We need to honour and respect the work our officers and constables do and trust them to do their job — rather than delude ourselves into thinking we can do their jobs better than they can and therefore arming ourselves.

Gun are not the solution.  As a matter of fact, they aggravate our problems.  A woman is 500x more likely to be shot/killed during a domestic dispute when firearms are kept in the home than she is when family firearms are kept in a neutral location such as a gun club.  There is a reason why the murder rate in the United Kingdom is so much lower than in the United States.  This twisting of the 2nd Amendment is why.

Some of you are likely to attack me for writing this.  That is fine with me.  Be my guest.  Because as a woman who was hurt in a gun “accident” as a child, I fiercely uphold that the gun laws in the United Kingdom are the best way to go.  I’ve seen what guns everywhere all the time can do and it disgusts me and terrify me.

Leave the guns to the police and the constables.  Leave them to the real modern militias. And please, in the name of sanity, stop thinking that having a gun around makes you safer!  IT DOESN’T!