England 2010

Two and a half weeks on the English island has created quite the impression on me.

Somewhat purposefully, we avoided the hub of this country, London, and pursued adventures in the South West and as far North as Edinburgh, Scotland, truly appreciating the significant cultural differences in the land of our national heritage.

Starting out on August 13th, we departed a cold grey California and arrived on the 14th to a rainy grey England and immediately began driving on the wrong side of the road. Our jet lag was severe, yet Grant’s G-Dub GPS kept us suitably entertained as we drove West to where we’d be parked for the next few weeks.

Contented with our time in the Salisbury countryside, we poked about the area, seeing the magnificent cathedral, the multitude of henges (and hedges), like Stonehenge and Woodhenge, and the ruins of Old Sarum, the castle.  We attempted to track down various English geocaches and perpetually came up empty.  We saw the sights of the English West Country, visiting close cities like Oxford, Bath, and Boscombe Beach as well as hiking through the local hills exploring the unique landscapes and interesting historical and cultural presence hidden in among the wheat and grass.

Then we boarded our train and headed North. Through the haunts of York and then along the coast, across the border, and on to Edinburgh for a Tattoo performance from around the world, a puppet show of immense supremacy (from a fringe act), and just enough beer and scotch to remember where we were. Truly spectacular.

Soon after, Tripp and Karen departed to Ireland and we boarded our train south, back toward Salisbury.

It was wonderful to see in just two and a half weeks how much Kelly and Rory were learning and growing.  It was great to feel the stress and chaos of family.  And even though we greatly overstayed our Benjamin Franklyin visitation rights, I’m glad we spent the time with Grant and Evelyn.




Our Little Journey Map

2010 – England

Movin on.

and now, we’ve gone. Gone from Colorado Springs and on our way to Tucson. From there to Orange County. With our final destination by the end of next week, Berkeley, California, where we’ll finally drop our bags for a stay of more than a few months.

Thanks to Colorado for the hospitality, the beautiful weather, the reasonably unique people, and of course the great family that will keep me coming back.


To Boston!

Still a Draft!

Wednesday Kira and I arrived into Boston’s Logan Airport and viola! the sun comes out.

Thursday we set out on our walking tour of the city.  Around the Cambridge/Harvard area, down through MIT, past Washington Park, and across the bridge into the Back Bay.  We walked past Boston University and then down to Berklee School of Music.  Here is where I’d perviously found my ukulele.


Alas, times change, and the Boston music store where Dan and I had previously found our $40 uke’s no longer carried them.  Instead we found a Horner brand that was a bit more dough and I opted out.  Sadly, we walked out of the store with no ukulele.  Purposeless, we wandered down to the Prudential building and sat to watch folks walk by.  The sun set and the wind picked up and the concrete beneath our seats became a block of ice.  We bought some chocolate covered almonds and then hurried home with sore feet.

Friday the sky was a bit grey and the sun tried, to no avail to peek through.  We woke up and scurried downtown to meet Stephanie.  Finding her among a crowd of Harvard band members striking up a tune, we walked to Boston Commons, enjoyed a short history from our friendly tour guide, popped into the Boston Library, and finally sought out and found the famous Freedom Trail.  A red line that courses through the streets of Boston and leads to a slew of remarkably historical places.


Friday night we came home a bit loosened by some collection of Bostonian elixars and via video chat demand Jon Clark to get on a plane the following morning and fly out here for the weekend.  He complies.  Saturday, a bit taxed by our engagements the previous night, we accomplished a little more than a brief tour of the Taza chocolate factory.  It was unique and delicious chocolate and we picked up a couple of bars, so perhaps if you’re nice we’ll share.

Saturday night we enjoyed the first snow of the winter here.  So, naturally, we woke up Sunday morning to run a 10 mi. qualifier for joining the Tufts Team for the Boston Marathon through the fresh wet snow and bitter morning frost.  Of ~250 I was able to run with a group that finished ~ top 20.  Not bad.  Sun is out now and its time for a nice post-snow walk to the bay.  Hoorah.

Then what happened….??…

Monday Jon, Kira, and I ventured out on the Orange Line and found the Saumel Adams Brewery.  It was informational, but they only served 3 tastes.  Boo.  From there Jon left for Kansas City and we two remaining returned to the apartment where we waited for Andrew’s plane to arrive.

Tuesday Andrew, Kira, and I ventured out south east to the Harpoon Brewery.  It was not very informational, but they had a full hour tasting session that included as many drinks as you could put down, within reason.


Wednesday through Friday we were in Philly!
300 miles of driving straight through NYC. I think I’d like to never make that drive again unless we spent some time enjoying the bright new-spring days that we were driving through. As it was a timed drive and in the beginning of the New England winter, it was just a chore. However, we arrived comfortably and were warmly greeted by Christopher.

The following day we woke up to start our one day tour of the city. Starting with a visit to our favorite chocolate factory, John&Kira’s.  However good their chocolate it, it’s very good, their factory was reminiscent of our visit to Dogoba in southern Oregon several years ago, except this time it excluded the illegal invitation in to see the working machines and chocolate lined up.  Instead it was an awkward phone call wich led to a representative meeting us outside to hand us a catalogue and illicit an order (at a discounted price).  So we took our photo, bought some chocolates, and laughed as we drove away from their brown door in the frigid Philly air.

Then we ventured to the grandiose Philadelphia Art Museum and took refuge for many hours, gawking at the magnificence of the displays.  It was fantastic.

Cheese-steak, Home Made Dinner, Sleep, – School, Independence Hall, Drive East.

Saturday put’s us back in Boston again…and it’s really frigid… and thus Sunday is colder and comes with rain.

Airline Collusion

It’s not enough that the government’s TSA is a bunch of fear mongering, power hungry, jack-asses, who recently mandated I preregister my name, DOB, and gender with airlines in order to “cooperate with the TSA to introduce Secure Flight, a federally mandated program designed to help enhance the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list* matching.”  A benign program that effects my life little, but affects my psyche greatly…

… But once again, the major airlines are coordinating their price increases and policy changes in a manner which is harmful to the consumer. En mass, they’ve added ‘fees’ to high traffic travel days. That, to me, feels a whole lot like collusion.
AP Article
While this isn’t new news per se, it is just one more example of a sick sector of business.  While I can’t support a general socialization of the industry, I can’t believe that these companies are functioning under honest practices and someone should effectively bitch-slap them, be it government or consumer.  I suggest the latter. You don’t need to fly, and it’s just one more reason why I’ll refuse to fly.  Instead get to where you’d like to be comfortably and without hassle, fly Amtrak.

A Cultural Misfire

How I managed to lose 4 months of my experience in China to working instead of looking & listening.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my enthusiasm for China. One month ago I could have been coaxed onto an airplane for the United States so long as you made sure my things would be handled and shipped behind my departure with a promised delivery of at least 30%. However, today, it would perhaps take a candy bar or a bottle of gin to coax me onto that flight home. What changed? Well, in short… I was fired.

I’ve had a wonderful amount of time, vacation time, to evaluate my mood. Two weeks ago I did a similar evaluation, which ultimately, lead to my termination.

Two weeks ago, I decided I was distracted by a life of trivial frustrations and work. Frustrations with authority, frustrations with pride. I decided I was frustrated with the very same things I was frustrated with while working at home in the U.S. I decided I no longer wanted to meter my day with lists of faults, stories of intimidation, and levels of anger. I evaluated my situation and I meditated on that which could be changed, that which might be changed, and that which wouldn’t be changed. First, I accepted that which could not be changed. Second, I sat down with those things that could be changed and changed them, a great deal of which was my attitude. And third, I made steps to attempt to change that which sat in the middle. This worked. Discussions at lunch relaxed a bit, and my relationship with the people who surrounded me changed to. Some for the better, some for the worse.

Initially, people accepted these changes as an up for my mood swings, however, after some time, I was no longer perceived as happy-go-luck, but instead, disrespectful and untrustworthy (or so I perceived it). Still, my goals for ‘successful living’ were being met. While I still felt I was missing, I was feeling much better about my world. However, as people around me changed their attitude, it became more difficult to adjust my new senses to reflect those changes, and eventually I was back in a funk. I was miserable again.

Then came friday and I tell my boss I hate work. – The weekend happens and I’m fired.

Spring Flowers in Hohhot, China

Today I went to the park. Have you seen this park? Becci would be insulted if you came to Hohhot and you didn’t go to the park, or you went to the park and didn’t enjoy it. You have to see this park. It’s got two lakes, if not three, or four. It’s got duck boats, swan boats, submarine boats, 2 seaters or 4. It’s got a roller coaster, a log ride, carnival games, and a ferris wheel. And it’s got hammocks ice cream for sale around every corner. It’s quite the park.

Here in the park I found a great sense of renewal today. I found what I had been missing the last four months. The thing that was killing my sense of vitality. I signed up for a 6-month trip to China. I got a month at the beginning and then it ended. I began work and my world became a stew of English & American psudo-tradition wrapped up in a Chinese package. My world became a cultural mix-tape left on the side of the highway.

Why? How? When?

I’m sad it took so long to answer these questions.
It happened because I worked for a school that sells not only language, but culture. It sells a WHITE face. It sells promise. It just sells. And because it sells that culture, it’s attempted to take the culture of the ‘west’ and siphon off all things marketable about it, presumably all things good. Because it would be insane to represent all things bad in western culture, that is left out, and Chinese culture is used to handle the negative aspects of daily life, and this became my world. My adventure, hijacked, it was terrible.

I was indoctrinated into a western system, augmented by a Chinese system, that I was supposedly comfortable with. Every day I lived in a fake fantasy world that didn’t represent home, but was suppose to, and didn’t represent China, but was suppose to. I had all the worst parts of China mixed up with all the worst parts of being western, of being WHITE. It was terrible. I hated China. I hated life. I hated teaching. I hated children. I hated. Period.

Today I was in the park. Have I told you about this park? Today I was in the park and I was reminded of all the reasons I really liked China. All the reasons I really liked life, teaching, children. Period.

Outside of a silly institution are eager people, happy people, regular people, who go to parks on their weekends. Who work during the week, who have goals, and who are reaching for their goals. In the park, people approach me because I’m White but not because I’m WHITE. There’s mystery in a foreigner, just like there is mystery in a woman. But in order to figure that mystery out, you ask the cute girl next to you in 5th grade if you can borrow her eraser, you don’t visit the brothel. I’m approached by curious people, by people who tell me they’ve never spoken English with a native English speaker. I’m approached by people because they want to show me that they work for Amway, an American Company, and to ask if I know the CEO. (The answer is obviously, “Yes, of course. Peng You!”) I get to watch the fire works go off just because someone loves explosions. I get to smile at EVERY SINGLE PERSON I see on the street in order to elicit a smile back. I get to remember I’m in China! about once every 2 minutes. I go to lunch and eat noodles, again, and it’s great! I get to exchange QQ numbers with strangers and offer them help with any of their homework, call me anytime. I get invited to their home. I get to forget about every stranger I offered to help because they never ask. I get to go swimming for eight kuai and then play ping pong for five kuai. I get to live in China.

The difference is in the park I get to take all the BEST parts of China and set them in front of me in the grass next to the lake while watching swan boats and the ferris-wheel and I listen and look and touch and smell and smile. And at the end of the day, when I get home, I’ve forgotten about all the worst parts of the world and I only know the best parts… and that’s why I travel.

On the Road & Website Migration.

In preparation for a month on the road I’m migrating my webposts to something which is accessible online. While I still have one month to prepare for this reality, I will be blogging from the new site in the mean time in order to break in the new system and work out all the kinks. The neat part is I’ve also migrated all of my previous blog entries, and some of the comments onto the new site (minus those found in these posts.) Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll have all of these posts migrated as well, as well as the new podcast address up and working.
That new site is the root of this one. Simply
*modified from theCalifornias to JohnMizell.com
The Chair Pagoda of Hohhot

Q) Why did you move away from Blogger in the first place?
A) Blogger is unreliable in China. When we first arrived it was blocked, then it was allowed again, and now it’s blocked again. So rather than mess with email posts and frustration with media uploads I moved to the computer based iWeb platform. It worked well enough, minus a couple of SNAFUs I enjoyed using it.
Q) Why are you changing sites again?
A) As noted in the message above, I want to be able to update my site while on the road. I cannot do that using iWeb, so I must migrate to a new system.
Q) What system are you using? Where is it?
A) I’m using a server-side client called WordPress. It’s a blogging platform that is widely used and supported. While I only have about 2 weeks expierence working with it, it seems like a robust program that may in fact replace my use of iWeb in the future. However, only time will tell.
Q) How did you get to be so awesome?
A) Practice.
If you’ve got any other questions, or see an errors I don’t seem to be fixing, let me know.
(Photo: A Pagoda of Chairs I constructed as part of my children’s English lesson)

France de Jour. Abridged, if you can imagine.

Due to the degree of difficulty involved in typing on a touch screen while on the road, it’s been frustratingly slow to compose any regular reports regarding whereabouts and activities. However, now that I’m on a machine let me see if I can do some (a great deal of) catching up.

Let me note:
When I say ‘we’ in reference to decisions made, let me make it clear that typically that excludes me. For the most part I did my best to take a literal back seat to the direction and advising of the journey. This in effect Created the journey, it amplified the adventure. Sometimes for good and sometimes for the worse, it certainly excluded me from understanding much of what I was seeing. But I did enjoy the privilege of viewing the French scape with wide eyes and a blatantly blank perspective and of course zero liability.

According to my notes it seems that Mom and Andrew arrived last on Friday the 17th and then I arrived the following Saturday, the 18th, though I can’t be sure the French calendar system is the same, the natives are quite aloof and speak a unique tongue that sounds nothing like mine own. Though I’m learning. Oui!

Our fist adventure started the night of my arrival at the Walkers, can you imagine? They were throwing a party with a number of friends that went well into the night and at some point along the way the Air France luggage delivery man arrived with my baggage and then stayed for a couple of rounds and an introduction to each party guest, quite delightful indeed. Yet somewhat more influential to our trip, we were introduced to a local friend and generously invited to go mushroom hunting the following day with one of the guests. Of course, we said “Oui!”

The following morning we put on our quiet-injun-moccasins, armed ourselves with pocket knives and drove off to meet the rest of the party. We were shown pictures of the prey, a Death Trumpet.. quite appealing eh? Essentially these were black/dark purple trumpet like mushrooms which poked out of the leaves around the moist bases of trees. Charged up, we drove to the trail and began our walk into the woods. A soft wood, full of orange and green, with lots of light and well defined trails. No bad wolf out here, so we thought. Along the way we passed many other types of fungi, most of which we picked and the proudly presented to our host with the question, “This one?” He would reply, “no” and then re-describe the mushroom again. After a while he just stopped answering us and walked ahead of the group. Perhaps he would think twice about inviting strangers. Then, as to inflict us with a bit of fear we passed a hunter and his dog, Whiskey, and the group stood a bit taller and talked a bit louder as none of us were wearing bright orange. I’d guess his sobriety was top prey this early in his morning.

We had climbed a couple of hills and scavenged a couple of valleys when our host indicated that we were Now in mushroom country. All the other trail did not produce the Death Trumpet, but NOW we could really start looking. Embarrassed we had wasted time until now we all put our heads down and went separate ways. At this point, anyone who has read Micahel Pollands “Omnivore’s Dilemma” could super impose his description upon us.

At this point it seemed that most of us were quite tired of the hunching hunt and were more interested in sitting and playing with leaves or exploring the green moss that grew on just about everything. Sitting down to have a look at an interesting stump of leaves, moss, grass, and general French muck we so often see piled and re-piled in the movies, I discovered a small black fungus and next to it another. Hot Damn! I Found em! Initially they were about the size of my little finger, but once I adjusted, or ‘got my eyes on,’ there were quite a few. I think I was sitting on some. Up to the size of two thumbs. Two whole thumbs!

At this discovery I hailed the group and the hunt was back on again. Soon enough Morgan found one, then Angela, Mom, then Andrew. We were certainly keeping up. In fact, while the locals were the experts, the Americans excelled at identifying a majority of the fun-guys littered in the forest (Andrew, of course finding the mother load at the end of the day). Five or so hours after we had parked we walked back to the cars. Thirty minutes after we all got to the cars, the rescue party finally found Mom and we could get on our way back to our hosts flat to enjoy each other’s company with shoes off. In the end our spoils all ended up in a delicious meal which our hosts cooked up; sharing with us buckets full of juices, liquors, and food stuffs. It was a great start to the whole trip.

Mushroom Group

If day one was the present highlight, and possible medal winner for the trip, day two had to be an identifier for the worst possible day of the trip. -er perhaps that’s a little harsh. We kicked ourselves out of bed early the second day and made our way to a common tourist attraction, Gorge de Fier. Here we found the park closed for the winter so decided to take at least an enjoyable walk around the park. On our return we found a smashed window and flat tire. Fortunately it was someone else’s car. Unfortunately it happened to be the car we rented from someone else. Damn!

In the spirit of our upbringing (or gender role) Andrew and I had the spare on quickly and after some photos we drove on. Our next step came when trying to figure out our next step. From here the next two days of story becomes one you might watch in high speed with a deep cowboy voice overdubbed giving a brief explanation.

“Well, see here’s when them’s Mizells, as they call ’em, went running round. Round and round about, talking gibberish with jus’ abouts every person thems could then see. Startin’ with their Bon-Jurs and endin’ with a Or-Vwa or two. Police diee-rected them to military and military to po-lice, repair men promptly sent them across the street to some other cow-town fill station. This was a whole brand of mess you couldn’t imagine there dreamin up on your stormiest of days. But in the end a tall handsome man, speakin their language set their ponies right and before dust at dusk could be seen none more they were back at the Walkers with a brand spankin’ new trolley in the drive pickin’ and a hollerin’ like the damnest of days had never touched them.” (Copyright 2008 John Mizell)

…. With things sorted out we resumed our schedule of no plans and yielded to Charley and his out door plans. We primed our selves with a short day hike (which included a short bit of misdirection) and the following day put on the big boots and saddled up to go Big! The hike was visible from the house. If we looked straight across the lake and then pushed the binoculars up about thirty degrees there was a house on the side of what seemed to be a shear cliff. We were going to drive a majority of the altitude to the trail head, however that still left the ‘shear’ part of the trail to be climbed.

When we arrived at the trail head we were parked at a pasture below the cliff walls and the stunningly green grass, I believe, tricked our senses into thinking we were somewhere in the Sierras of California. Clearly we weren’t. About thirty steps up the ‘hill’ I was curious how such a place could be created in all it’s majesty and grandeur, further I was Very curious where all the oxygen had gone. That accompanied with a look back over your shoulder indicated the California pretense quite false. The view all around us made for frequent justified breaks. In no time we had made the short hike to the top where the house sat overlooking the lake. We ate lunch and rested a bit more and then in a significantly shorter amount of time descended back to the cars where we each sank into the seats thankful to have invented such a thing as ‘chair.’ (Let me note that Charley didn’t participate in the frequent breaks or lack of oxygen. As an avid outdoors man and cyclist he had absolutely NO trouble at all. In fact he pointed out one of his regular cycling roads we could see going up and over these mountains.)

The following day the Walkers drove to Italy and we down to Avignon where we spent the next two days getting lost. Aside from our trip south from Geneva this was the most driving we’d done. So now we had a chance to really ‘participate’ in the culture of France, raise questions and have them rapidly answered. like…

Traffic? The majority of France uses the circle to manage intersections. For the most part, the circles seem to work quite well. I think for a moment that perhaps this is because of the synergy of the other drivers being polite, the motorcycles Crazy, and the cops absolutely vacant. Yet this land is not without want and this seemingly utopian land crumbles with my naiveté. Due to less order comes a subtle desire for structure, if it’s possible to differentiate between the two and so come the honks, glares, passes, engine noises, and other leading signs of aggravation and road rage. Five o’clock and road work, both inherently provoking, create the standstill and at that comes the sound of the city and so France looses it’s quaint curb apeal and becomes yet another ‘place’. Traffic answered.

On our way south we made a number of short stops in picturesque villages and towns, as well as a visits to a bicycle & motorbike museum, olive oil ‘factory,’ the village/region of Chateaunuff de Paup to steel some grape seeds, a gigantic hardware store where we got to see all the things “we don’t have in America” followed by a disciplinary stop at McDonnalds (just about the same). But really most of the time we were completely lost, or at least in the wrong lane of traffic. I bided my time in the back seat as Andrew and Mom pulled their hair out. All such Good fun!

Cold and raining as we drive back north I stopped to note the Alps.

The Alps, to understate, are grandiose. It’s a meadowed valley or a pastured plain defined by a stand of trees or a fence line and as I saw it a road. Beyond the pleasant cruiser bike trails however forests of national parks fill in and abruptly rise. Upward, up, high up, up beyond sense. These mountains fill in every horizon feasible and leave you lonely when they don’t.

Just above, the clouds are equally exotic. Rain clouds are a standard sort. Big, full, all encompassing, visually non-stimulating, and generally unexciting. However, mountain clouds, the kind that sneak and slither, creep and wither, and the ones that simply whistle the day away with you, are the real gems of the sky. The precious pieces, deliciously engaging morsels, the most elegant robe ever tailored to accompany and complement the eloquence of the peaks themselves. On a clear day they are the fingers of the hand wrapped around the profound arrogance of earth protecting from the terrible yearning of man in the most absurd contest of ego. Another may seep over a wooded ridge as moss makes a dutiful attempt to overcome the sunny side of a stone; as horses would attempt to stampede down and across a western plain. So much to it’s success that it spills back the other way once the valley filled. … if you can imagine I suppose.

The mountains keep you directed and content, they are your companion along the drive. A while later your mind drifts and your eyes follow the river edge, corn stalks and grape vines follow your tracks and smoke from a chimney or nuclear power plant maintain your sense of humanity. Then you remember your ever present companions and lift your gaze to find them gone. A dreadful feeling engulfs your sense of duty, of responsibility, revisiting your thoughts of casual camaraderie. You turned your back for one moment and they were gone, lost forever. In their place a cold grey blanket. Fog, rain, clouds. Shadows dance in your teary vision as you pan feebly. Finally a small dark peak shows in a corner of the sky. In another moment the white or red cliffs slice through the etherous fill. A terraced green step seems to keep pace with your peripherals and then as it came it departs. Your left with the embarrassment of I’ll conceived fear and rectification. It doesn’t take long before your at ease again. You see the river again and begin to follow it along the road…

We’re back in Annecy and after a bit of a read, we fall asleep. After a nice bike ride into town and back again in the cold bitter rain today, I’m pooped and enjoying some Tea and a crumble thing mom made. My pants are in the drier. I’m writing this story, spell checking and what not. One look around the room says, “I think that concludes this long winded soliloquy of mine.” Thanks for listening.

John Patrick Mizell
(edit and forward as appropriate)

Photos should soon be pasted online here: http://jpmizell.blogspot.com

Google Earth Locations:

Now were back at Annecy – on Route de Avolliones, below the word Avolliones toward the water with the big lawn.

The Hike – we started at the end of the white road and then went up and around to the top of the shadow shown in the photo moving down along the the right side – a brown trail shows up a bit.

Our hotel in Avenonon was on Impasse Monvoish-Autard – just about where the I of Impasse is on the map. The white building with the courtyard.

Pictures Attached:
1. A fantastic spice apothecary
2. Mushrooms close up
3. Hiking down (looking at this photo you can see the Walker’s home. Just above the buoy in the water there is a ‘white’ harbor. From here move along the shore to the right and you’ll see a chapel spike (large in comparison to other white specks). Now move down to the water line and at the second white spec there we are. Easy, right?)
4. Airplane Bike at the museum
5. Grapes ‘borrowed’ from Chateaunuff de Paup